If you were in Houston a dozen or so years ago and watched Channel 2 News, you might remember Rob Johnson.
He was the reporter who submitted himself to any manner of peril for your TV enjoyment, including plunging himself via car into a bayou to demonstrate how to properly extricate one's self from a sinking vehicle. He also sacrificed his body to pepper spray, an angry attack dog, and other indignities -- all in the name of local news (and likely Channel 2's crappy ratings.)
Print reporters, watching the stories in their newsrooms, shook their heads at the stunts, sniff-sniff.
Flash forward to today and get this -- Rob Johnson is a big shot TV anchor in Chicago and half of those print reporters (probably) are laid off, writing press releases for XYZ Corp.
Johnson is 40 now and enjoying life in the Windy City, where he anchors the 5, 6 and 10 p.m. broadcasts for the CBS affiliate. He gets to cover serious stories like Barack Obama's campaign.
So what's he think about those wacky Houston days?
Pondering the question, Johnson said his daredevil stories "put me on the map in Houston," got his picture in The Wall Street Journal and sparked a discussion among media types about the role of journalists.
But still ...
"I'm not unhappy it's behind me," he said on the phone the other day. "I've kinda put that in my rear view mirror. I don't miss doing those stories but I miss the people in Houston."
Johnson admits after a while he began asking himself, "How much of this stuff can I do?"
Finally, when he was asked do another participatory TV journalism story idea in which he would chug six beers and then attempt to drive through a vehicular obstacle course in a parking lot, "I said no."
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"That's the last time I ever did one."
So Channel 2 just gave the beer-chugging-and-driving story to another reporter, who was happy to do it.
And the rest is local TV history.
-- Steve Olafson