One of the joys of a casual, thorough reading of the daily paper (the kind of reading you don’t do online) is the occasional story that makes me stop and admire the effort and creativity that went into the piece.
Such was the case with a Sunday, April 25, story that was ensconced on Page 4 of the Local section.
The headline was “Tina Porter testifies for child protection bill.” The writer was Jason Noble, who has been The Star’s Jefferson City correspondent the last few years.
This could easily have been a routine, ho-hum story, but Noble wasn’t about to let opportunity slip through his grasp.
Come. Take a closer look, through my eyes, as I read it and re-read it.
Here’s the lead, or first sentence of the story:
Tina Porter’s voice is too soft for this place where volume so often trumps substance, but when she begins her story, everyone falls silent.
In just one sentence, Noble has set a tone that says: Are you ready for something you don’t see at the State Capitol every day? He establishes a contrast between Tina Porter’s soft voice and the customary hubbub of the Capitol. And I know that a story is coming. Noble just told me so. How can I resist reading on?
She is in a hearing room in the Missouri House, telling once more the story of how her children were taken from her.
“Hi,” she begins her testimony before the Crime Prevention Committee. “I want to respectfully acknowledge all of you.” But before she gets much further, the chairman reminds her to speak up, to speak into the microphone.
Noble lets me know the story is going to be gripping because, for God’s sake, it’s about Porter’s children being taken from her. At the same time, he requests my forbearance; she’s telling her story “once more.” And almost imperceptibly, without disturbing the flow of the story, Noble frames the backdrop for this day’s action: Porter is speaking to the House Crime Prevention Committee; she’s testifying. Also, notice that Noble doesn’t bother naming the committee chairman. It’s not important; it would just get in the way. The spotlight must be on Tina Porter.
Kansas Citians know her story well — how in 2004, Sam, 7, and Lindsey, 8, disappeared during a weekend with their father, Dan Porter, how he refused for more than three years to tell what happened to them, how he finally led authorities to their bodies, and how he ultimately was tried and sentenced for their murders.
In four precise phrases, Noble summarizes the story that most Kansas City area residents, including me, are very familiar with. And even I’ve heard it many times before, I appreciate the recapitulation. It’s been a while since I’ve thought about it. And for those who aren’t familiar with the story, Noble just gave them the gist of it, too, setting the stage for whatever new direction the story is taking with Porter’s testimony.
But these state representatives from eastern and southern Missouri don’t know her story. They need to now because Tina Porter has a request for them:
Subtly, through the unknowing eyes and ears of those state reps from eastern and southern Missouri, Noble has ushered me to the front door of this day’s story. Tina Porter has a request…I’m on the edge of my chair. What is it that this woman who has been through absolute hell wants? Just like those state reps who are hearing Porter’s story for the first time, I want to know.
Don’t let it happen again.
She might as well have been swinging a sledgehammer. Don’t let it happen again. God forbid. Now I want to know specifically what does she want the legislature to do to prevent a similar horror from happening to others.
And with that, Noble has locked me up for the remaining 15 paragraphs of the story. He’s got handcuffs on my attention that are so strong and so tight that George Foreman couldn’t break them and Houdini couldn’t slip out of them.
Now…if you, too, are interested in knowing what Tina Porter wants the legislature to do, you can find out right here.