By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
Bob Beck is perfectly comfortable telling other people’s stories. It’s just talking about his own life that causes his heart to race.
But in December, Beck and the team at Wyoming Public Media told one of the most personal stories they’d ever unearthed, and it was right in their newsroom.
In the Modern West podcast episode “The Widower,” Beck detailed his wife’s stage four lung cancer diagnosis in November 2016 and the agonizing four months he spent as her caregiver before her death, which he described as “the worst day of [his] life.”
But the story wasn’t just about Beck, but about caregivers across the state. He realized that as a widower with no children and no local family, if something happened to him, the problem could be much more serious. He wanted to look at how Wyoming addressed these issues and what solutions existed.
Nothing would ever bring Debbie back, but Beck has continued on as a veteran storyteller, being the longtime news director of Wyoming Public Media and continuing to publish important pieces about the state and its inhabitants.
On Tuesday, Beck and his team received six Edward R. Murrow Awards in the small market category. Beck’s Modern West episode was particularly hailed, receiving top prize in the Best Documentary category.
The Radio Television Digital News Association presents the awards to honor outstanding achievements in electronic journalism. They are among the most prestigious in broadcast and digital news.
“That particular story is a little different than anything I’ve ever done,” Beck said in an interview with Cowboy State Daily. “I originally told Melodie [Edwards, “Modern West” producer and WPM staffer] about how some legislation about caregivers that was being talked about last summer hit me. She told me that was the real story, my story.”
Beck spent two months working on “The Widower,” spending hours on interviews, research and preparing his own story for a 30-minute episode.
The veteran reporter can relay many facts in short packages, condensing complex issues into five-minute stories, if even that long. But working on a long-form piece was something alien to him.
So receiving a Murrow Award is especially gratifying to Beck.
But the other satisfying response to his story was from legislators across the state.
“I’ve heard that some legislators have heard the story and it made them really think about these issues and how they’re affecting Wyoming,” he said. “I was afraid I would screw up the story. It was a fun process, but also stressful. I was delighted with the final product.”
But he didn’t tell the story on his own, so Beck will always credit the cast of characters in “The Widower” that helped make the episode more compelling. Plus, the “Modern West” team and the WPM newsroom helped edit the script and episode, ensuring Beck told the best story possible.
It’s an exciting time for Beck and the WPM team, but they know that the celebration time will be short and they will have to get back to work.
“It’s gratifying to take a chance on something and have it work out,” he said. “When I first started at the station in 1988, we were known as ‘the student station.’ We’ve come a long way from ‘the student station’ to now being considered one of the elite stations in the state and country.”