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Our story | Phil Record tells the way it was

Maybe it was the hat

By Nancy Bartosek

The fedora, actually.  Bob Schieffer donned it in 1961 at the behest of his city editor at the Star-Telegram, Phil Record.

Schieffer had been hired for the night police beat when he was still a pup. A cub reporter. One who still looked new grass-green at age 25.

"The first thing Phil said to me was be sure and get a hat because you want to look like a detective as much as you can," Schieffer said. "I don't know if I got it because I wanted to look like a detective, or because I wanted to look like Phil, but I did."

Yes, maybe it was the hat.

THE STAR-TELEGRAM job wasn't Schieffer's first foray into journalism. And it wasn't where he met Record. The two had often crossed paths at the scene of accidents or at the police station, where Record spent evenings on the night police beat for the Star-Telegram and Schieffer, a spot news reporter for KXOL radio, hung out looking for stories.

Schieffer landed the radio job while he was still a TCU student. A fellow student, Bruce Neal '59, worked there and tipped him off about an opening.

"The news director took me outside and asked me to describe Farrington Field, so I fumbled my way through something," Schieffer said. "And then he said, 'You can type, right?'

"Well, I couldn't but said I could, and was hired. By the end of the first day I could type. I typed nearly as fast then as I do today."

KXOL pioneered on-the-scene news coverage in Fort Worth and marketed itself as the "veteran radio news team." That veteran team consisted of three TCU students: Bruce Neal '59, Roy Eaton '59 and Schieffer '59. Record jokingly threatened to expose them in the paper, which unnerved Neal but made Schieffer laugh.

"We were all kids, this was our first job, and we just loved it," he said. "It was just this thrilling adventure. We made a dollar an hour, which wasn't much in those days, either."

Driving around in a red panel truck and sporting bright red jumpsuits with KXOL on the back, the reporters would learn of accidents on a police scanner and dash to the scene. Record was headed to a fatal car/train collision when Schieffer came on the radio, reporting live.

"I heard this person say, 'This is Bob Shafer' (the station manager insisted he go by Shafer) and then announce dramatically what had happened, " Record said. "He said with great emotion, 'Ladies and gentlemen, this is the worst catastrophe this reporter has ever witnessed.'

"He'd been on the job two weeks. That was when I met Bob Schieffer."
Schieffer and his fellow reporters came to think of themselves more as detectives than reporters, investigating crimes alongside the police.

"I love to tell young people going to journalism school that it's a lot of fun," he said. "If you're a curious person, if you wonder about things, have an interest in what makes things work or why people do what they do, I just can't think of a better way to spend your life than to be a reporter."

SCHIEFFER MADE a name for himself at KXOL, and when Record moved to the city desk in '61, he hired Schieffer to replace him on the police beat.
Schieffer got the hat -- and total access to crime scenes, fires and the detectives he was trying to imitate.

"The cops saw you as a part of a team," Schieffer said. "The truth is we were probably too close to them, but we looked after them, and they took care of us."
Schieffer once ran a brief story on a late-night robbery, noting that detectives said they planned to investigate the next day.

"The next night I came to work, and these guys started reaming me out. The police chief had seen the story and wanted to know why they'd gone home without investigating.
"I had written it in all innocence, and I told them so. Then the detectives said, 'Yeah, but we didn't know you were going to tell some newspaperman about it!' "

During that time, Fort Worth's unofficial press club was The Cellar, a beatnik coffeehouse at 1111 Houston St. that featured live music and waitresses in their underwear. A hangout of the wealthy, city councilmen, police officers and degenerates, Schieffer and Record would often unwind there after work, occasionally sipping the Everclear and grapefruit juice that owner Pat Kirkwood shared only with friends since he didn't have a liquor license.

The night before President Kennedy was assassinated, the chief of the Secret Service asked the two to get "press passes" to The Cellar for some off-duty agents in town for Kennedy's speech. Record and Schieffer later appeared in the Warren Commission Report for doing so.

In 1964 Schieffer talked Star-Telegram management into sending him to Vietnam, where he tracked down local soldiers and wrote about them. He called it the turning point in his life.

While overseas, he and Record would communicate on the Teletype machines at 2 a.m. One day Schieffer's mother called Record: "Philip, I know Bobby is not brushing his teeth. You be sure and tell him tonight to brush his teeth." Record did as he was told.

"A couple of days later Bob wrote back, 'Don't you ever send me a message like that again!' " Record said, laughing. "A bunch of guys had been standing around reading the messages and had given him hell ever since."

Schieffer would later credit Record as his most important professional mentor. The second was Bill Small, who hired him at CBS, followed by James A. Byron, the Channel 5 (now WBAP-TV) news director who drew him to broadcasting.

Interestingly, all three served as national president of Sigma Delta Chi, now known as the Society of Professional Journalists, a coincidence that landed Schieffer the job at CBS.
While Schieffer was reporting from Vietnam, Sheriff Lon Evans '33 checked in on the newsman's mother several times a week. Schieffer calls Evans "just a wonderful man" and one of the greatest influences in his life.

"Lon was one of those public officials who knew what a news story was. He helped me get more stories and could sum up a situation better than anybody I've even known.

"I'll never forget the time a very wealthy man killed his father. I asked Lon what the motive was, and he said, 'I'll tell you, he killed the old son-of-a-bitch because he thought he oughta be dead.' "

THE WAY TO learn to be a reporter is to be a reporter. Write stories over and over.
The most important skill a reporter can develop, Schieffer added, is to find the lead. Bill Hix at KXOL drove that home by insisting that the reporter write the lead to his story. In those days the police reporter would generally just phone in facts and quotes to the rewrite desk. But Hix understood that once you get a good lead on a news story, the rest is just filling in and elaborating.

"What Hix was really doing was training us to think like reporters," Schieffer said. "To this day, when I walk into a news conference or I come upon a story, the first thing I think is what's the lead here, and I start prioritizing."

That skill was useful when Schieffer began covering the White House. He would prioritize every answer the president gave so when Walter Cronkite would ask what viewers should draw from this, Schieffer would turn to the camera and say, "Walter, what's important here ... "

The second most important skill is to have a good ear for quotes. In those days, news format dictated a fact-filled lead, followed by a quote.

The most memorable quote Schieffer reported in those days was for a story about a kid who killed his brother. The lead described the incident. The next paragraph read: "I killed him because he tore up my Bible."

That story exemplifies another lesson Schieffer learned early on: ""I have always believed, and I think it comes from those days, that the more you let the characters in the story tell the story, the better the story is. That's how you write it in a way people can remember it."
Beyond skills, every great reporter is curious, Schieffer believes. "I saw that watching Phil work, and after I came to CBS, watching Walter Cronkite. Walter Cronkite had more curiosity than anybody I ever have known.

"I think curiosity is the No. 1 trait reporters should have."

THE INTERNET is a sort of a national water cooler, and it's changed the face of journalism, Schieffer said.

"The Internet is the first vehicle for distributing news on a national scale that's not edited. It's the place people trade gossip, jokes and information. But it's not something that you can take at face value.

"We found that on 9-11. We spent most of our time correcting reports that were spreading on the Internet. And they spread in a matter of seconds. If we had not done that, we ran the risk of setting off mass hysteria."

Publishing or broadcasting truth in a way people understand will always be the core work of a journalist. Dealing with the burgeoning challenges of the global information age will be the task of the students in school today.

"The good news is we have access to more information than any people who have ever lived on Earth," Schieffer said. "The bad news is there's so much of it that you have to sort through it."

OKAY, so maybe it wasn't just the hat. Sure, it boosted the confidence of a young man with a dream. And it did look cool.

But early guidance from mentors like Record, now a professional-in-residence at the Schieffer School and a nationally recognized expert in media ethics, surely helped propel the talented young man toward greatness.

Now Schieffer will occasionally stand with his old friend in a TCU classroom and talk about ethics. Or help a young reporter sort through the facts of a story. Or just laugh about the old days.

Once just an ambulance-chasing reporter, Schieffer is now a seasoned international journalist on conversational terms with presidents and kings.
He no longer needs the hat to get in the door.

Comment at tcumagazine@tcu.edu.