Still enthralled by stories that surprise

Remember the movie The Paper with Michael Keaton?

Ask any news reporter and they remember it. In fact, you don’t even have to ask. We love it. We can quote it (as an editor I often quoted Robert Duvall’s rant about too many columnists, “will you all just shut… the… EFF… up!”). We live it in our mind, hoping for the day we live it for real, giving it all to a breaking story.

I recall a few of those days, including once when I actually got to yell, “stop the presses!” back when we still had presses (sadly it was not for breaking news but a major error on the front page). I remember the Bush v. Gore presidential election when we ran three different headlines, including one “Bush Wins.”

I recall reporting the events of 9-11.

But honestly what sticks with me most are not the breaking stories, but the surprising ones. 

Breaking stories are like a one-night stand, full of intensity and heat but over by dawn. The surprising stories linger more. They grow as you work on them and roll around in your mind after you’re done.

Elton John once said his songs are like postcards, once you’re finished you put a stamp on them and send them away. Breaking stories are like that. But surprising stories tend to be a bit more a like a journal entry, something you’ll return to because of a growing fascination. They hang out longer in your mind, circling back time and again.

I had the pleasure of working on a couple of surprising stories recently, both of which came out this week on

Who knew Eugene, Ore. had more than a tremendously successful and fashionable football team? Who knew that some of the finest innovators in video game development for the past twenty years work and live in the middle of the Willamette Valley, not the Silicon Valley? I sure as hell didn’t until I started talking to Jeff Tunnell, who one former employee calls the Michael Jordan of successful tech-based start-ups. Tunnell’s sold an amazing three start-ups and is working on his most ambitious yet, Spotkin, an educationally based game development company that wants to “change the world.” All from Eugene, Oregon. That’s surprising.

But the interview I had with Dutch Bros. co-founder Travis Boersma really surprised me. The management philosophy of $150 million company that Travis and his older brother started with a single coffee cart comes down to this: Love on each other and love on the customers and do whatever it takes to show that.  A cynic would miss the genuine energy that flows from the founder to its organization. In some ways I made my living being a cynic. But you talk to Travis Boersma for 30 minutes and cynicism withers with the energy of enthusiasm for life, for purpose, for the divine in everyone and everything we do.

I’ve basked in it for a long time after. Surprisingly so in a great way.


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