If you’re in your mid-30s or younger, none of this probably makes sense to you.
But if you worked in news, especially as a generalist in broadcast news, in the mid-’90s, you covered the story that broke exactly 25 years ago.
The O.J. Simpson case was one the “big breaks” of my career. By no means did I choose the story to be the one for which I would cover virtually every inch. In some ways, it chose me.
I woke up on June 13, 1994 and sat down at a desk to continue looking for full time work in TV, after years in radio while finishing my education. The radio on the desktop reported news that stopped me in my tracks – the ex-wife of O.J. Simpson, football star, sportscaster and co-star of “The Naked Gun” movies (among my favorites) was found dead in a ritzy neighborhood of L.A. Amid all of the news, it really stood out.
The very next day, Tuesday, I was offered a truly special opportunity at WSB-TV in Atlanta, the number one station in a top ten market. By Friday night, I was packing to move to Atlanta, when the Bronco chase was playing out on live TV. After the move, after a couple of days of training, my first “nightside” shift started right after Simpson’s formal arraignment. An executive producer figured out I had some legal knowledge, was a football fan and didn’t yet know the local market. So, from then on, I was on the O.J. beat.
Some nights, I would produce an entire anchor package on the day’s events for the 11:00 news (then the highest-rated late local newscast in the country). Others, I would write the anchor introduction to a report from L.A. Just about every night, I would assemble soundbites for 5pm and 6pm newscasts, often while legal proceedings were still in session. I only missed a week of coverage, while at two TV stations (I left Atlanta in mid-1995 for an irresistible opportunity in Orlando and was asked about O.J. knowledge in my interview as it was apparently a prerequisite), between arraignment and verdict, only because I was on vacation, when I followed daily in the New York tabloids.
The case was an American obsession and dominated national news and, especially, local news. It was a very cheap, relatively easy (even I could do it) and exceptionally popular story to cover. Trial activities were often the lead local newscast story. “Off days” were still reported on early in local newscasts. It was like nothing before or since, because of the moment in time in which it all occurred.
The O.J. Simpson case not only changed my career, establishing TV bona fides early on, it changed TV. It ushered in an era of more national “generic” live shots in local newscasts and more punditry on national news programs. It made CNN, just three years after the Iraq War coverage that put it on the map, into “OJTV.” It marked the end of soap operas as dominant daytime programming. That’s just a few examples.
In the coming weeks and months, I plan to expand more on how this story changed news media. Did you cover it? If so, I’d like to hear and share your perspectives, as the 25 year markers of this one-of-a-kind news phenomenon are recognized.