Henpecked: Schutze's New Journalism Hero

Well, as usual, The Dallas Morning News prints stuff, and then it's up to me to come along behind them and do clean-up on the story. What am I? Their journalistic janitor?

Mariana Greene, The News's garden editor and author of a column called "Gardening Fool," has a story in the paper today about a hen that got lost in the ritzy Preston Hollow area (near where George II lives) and how she rescued it and so on.

I happen to know some of the behind-the-scenes on this deal, for reasons not worth going into in this space. But when I read Greene's column about how the hen was returned to its rightful owner, I thought a little more credit could have been given to the real hero of the tale. Typical DMN.

O.K., Greene is my wife. Now I have bared my soul.

Yes, the hen turned up alone and lost on a big estate. Yes, Greene brought it home to her own modest abode in East Dallas (where I also dwell) and gave it a temporary home. Yes, she sort of gives credit in her column to the guy who actually turned up the owner -- one Eric Nicholson of People Newspapers.

But I don't think she gives Nicholson enough credit.

The reporting job this guy did to find the chicken-owner was the kind of basic, dogged, never-say-die, shoe-leather reporting that wins big prizes when it's directed at corporate fraud instead of missing chickens.

Nicholson, a 25-year-old UTD grad who did not major in journalism, read about the missing hen first in a post on The News's Park Cities Blog, then again in that item I wrote on Unfair Park. By the way, I had a big role in this whole thing. I actually made some personal sacrifices, both physical and mental, in order to see this thing through, but I'm not into the whole "hero" thing.

Nicholson, as it turns out, is the spouse of a former chicken-keeper. "My wife had some hens before our baby was born," he told me on the phone just now. "A small flock."

Not only that, he adopted some stray dogs who later dispatched his wife's entire first flock to their Everlasting Reward. So Mr. Nicholson, has tasted the bitter wine of chicken guilt, as have I. I feel his pain. Apparently his wife replaced the first batch with more hens. That's how it goes. Tears and sobbing. Then more chickens.

In the process, Nicholson had learned a thing or two about fowl. "I knew that hens can't and won't fly very far," he said.

So even though the estate manager where the hen was found had told Greene that no one in Preston Hollow keeps chickens, Nicholson, who covers the area for Preston Hollow People, knew Preston Hollow's dirty little secret. He knew that what the estate manager had told Greene could not be true. Somebody very close to that estate was a closet Preston Hollow chicken-keeper!

Now here's the part that I really like: Nicholson went to the area of the chicken siting and knocked on doors.

Knocking on doors in Preston Hollow isn't easy. "There are a lot of gated driveways," he said. At the house that turned out to be the chicken's rightful home, the gate was open, but a couple of serious-looking dogs kept Nicholson away from the door.

In spite of all that, Nicholson knew the great secret of reporting. It's dumb. It's not a complicated job. Just keep knocking and calling phone numbers. Sooner or later, somebody blabs. I like to think of it as fishing. Throw the hook. Nuthin'. Throw the hook. Nuthin'. About 200 times. Then throw the hook again. Bite! Everybody has a neighbor who blabs, even in Preston Hollow.

Now, in this case, he didn't get the bite from door-knocking. He came back into the newsroom, still with nothing, on a Monday morning when he was facing an end-of-the-day deadline. But rather than bag it, he went online to the Dallas Central Appraisal District, looked up the property where the chicken was found, got names of owners for the surrounding properties and started working the phones.

Throw the hook. Nuthin', nuthin',  nuthin'. "Then this woman said, 'Oh, yes, I know some people who have chickens."

She wouldn't give him the name, but she took Nicholson's contact information, and 10 minutes later the chicken's rightful owner called him. Within hours the chicken-owner was at Greene's humble abode in East Dallas picking up the chicken.

That's just damned good reporting.

Greene, of course, has a whole argument about how it was The Morning News blogs that really made it all happen, because that's how the word got out in the first place. So typical. And not a word of credit to Unfair Park in her column today. Oh, well. We just don't even really expect that.

But the real hero of this saga? Some might mention my name, but I must say no. No! Not I! It's Eric Nicholson, intrepid reporter. Hat's off to shoe leather -- a job very well done, fellow fisherman!

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Jim Schutze has been the city columnist for the Dallas Observer since 1998. He has been a recipient of the Association of Alternative Newsweeklies’ national award for best commentary and Lincoln University’s national Unity Award for writing on civil rights and racial issues. In 2011 he was admitted to the Texas Institute of Letters.
Contact: Jim Schutze