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By Jose Gaspar
Let me get one thing straight. I am not Kurt Rivera, the guy who reads the news on TV. You would think that after 25 years of seeing my smiling face on KBAK Eyewitness News, people would know the difference between my colleague and myself. In case you hadn't noticed, Kurt is a short guy about 5 feet tall, appears to wear a toupee and is a misguided Cincinnati Reds fan. I tower over Kurt, have all my natural hair and am a long suffering but loyal Cubs fan, though the Cubbies happen to be in last place at the moment. Yet on the street some people still call me Kurt.
This month marks 25 years of service by yours truly on KBAK-TV and a total of 31 years as a reporter. I've seen tons of fellow news people come and go voluntary and involuntary, while others got burned out in this industry. I thank God I still like my job. Reporting really is more than "just the facts, ma'am." It's afforded me the opportunity to meet and know people on many levels. Each has his or her own story to tell beyond the usual two minutes of time on a newscast. It's also given me the good fortune of getting to know individuals who have overcome tragedies and challenges which I could not fathom dealing with. Such as the loss of a child.
I still recall the day in May 1990 when news broke about the disappearance of 4-year-old Jessica Martinez, who was playing outside right in front of her own apartment. Tragically, her body was found 10 days later in a field just south of town. Jessica's mom, Nellie Martinez, was devastated and at times I wondered if Nellie herself would survive such a horrific ordeal.
Jessica's killer has never been caught and charged with her murder. This particular story hit me and I have stayed in contact with Nellie Martinez and her family. Her transformation from a grieving inconsolable mother to an advocate for similar victims has been nothing short of amazing. She has somehow found strength in her own loss and is putting it to use for the benefit of others. As a reporter, you cover many stories involving fatal consequences. What always sticks with you is when the victim is an innocent child. It makes you pause and reflect on your own life.
Much has changed and yet so much has not in the time since I first hit the streets of Bakersfield in 1988. Growth and progress have taken off in the northwest, southwest and other pockets of the city. But the east side continues to be underserved with streets without sidewalks and poor lighting. East Hills Mall never really took off; it remains a work in progress, but no city or county leader as far as I recall has ever taken up the cause to at least publicly address the issue. The outlying communities have their own issues and it is a good sign when residents of those communities get actively involved.
I'd be remiss if I didn't point out the progress in Delano schools. I was given the education beat and back then, the high school dropout rate in Delano was horrendous, as high as 40 percent, if not higher. The school board of trustees at the Delano Joint Union High School District was dysfunctional, with infighting among board members, and sometimes, more than that.
On at least one occasion, two board members came to physical blows. Most school board meetings elsewhere were boring. Delano always was lively and made for great TV. Slowly, the school district leadership began to turn around. There is still room for improvement, but today Delano schools are among the highest, if not the highest, academically achieving in Kern County. What a difference 25 years can make.
It's hard to say what the next 25 years in the TV news business will be like, or for that matter news in general. Sorry to see the demise of newspapers. The digital computer age has revolutionized the way people get their news and so far, no one has figured out a way newspapers can make sufficient money by putting their product online. Colleagues from the print media have been laid off and news coverage has consequently suffered because of this.
In the broadcast industry today, the direction more stations are heading is to hire a "one man band." One person plays the dual role of reporter and photographer, with the reporter shooting and editing his or her own story. The result is a story that suffers in content and quality because as a reporter, you have to focus on your subject matter and gather the facts as best you can without worrying about shooting your own video. Stations do this to cut down on costs.
It's been a good ride so far, but I suppose things could always improve. The other day arriving at work there was a package on my desk. Who could this be from, I wondered? Since it wasn't ticking, I picked it up and read the label. It was addressed to Kurt Rivera.
These are Jose Gaspwar's opinions, not necessarily those of The Californian.