By Deb Dion
At 6 p.m. every week night on KOTO radio, it’s showtime. Stephen Barrett and Annie Pizey report the local news, regardless of whether an avalanche snapped a power line that serves the whole region or nothing much at all happened. The show must go on.
Barrett and Pizey spend all day chasing stories, researching, interviewing and trying to capture the perfect sound bite. They write, narrate and record the broadcast carefully, sometimes frantically editing and engineering the program just minutes before the evening news. And then, they push “play.”
Barrett says that the satisfaction of being done for the day is fleeting. “It’s a nerve wracking job. Every day, you start with nothing, and by six o’clock, you’d better have something. People are listening and they expect to be informed. The next morning you’re back to nothing. It’s like Groundhog Day.”
Despite its ephemeral quality, Pizey says she loves the medium. She has practiced other kinds of journalism, worked for local newspapers and such, but radio is special. She enjoys getting people to open up and tell their stories on the air. “I think I have a knack for finding stories in the everyday things people do in the community, but it’s hard work to do that five days a week,” she says. “Anyone who has a daily deadline knows how hard it is. But it’s really fun, too.”
They make a good team. Barrett covers the hard news, local politics and business and legal issues; Pizey focuses on the softer side, the features, arts and entertainment and community topics. He is the cake; she is the frosting.
Each has a personality that lends itself to their style of journalism. Barrett is quiet and intellectual, the kind who finds reading a budget or legal brief interesting. Erudite and articulate, he has bookshelves of historical nonfiction, biographies and science fiction. His idea of recreation is an eight-mile trail run—he likes the simplicity of just him, his sneakers and the mountains. He also has a nerdy sophistication with machines, from digital sound equipment at work and his stereo speakers (Bowers and Wilkins, the most expensive possession in his modest studio apartment) to his prowess at the World of Warcraft. “Warcraft” is what’s known as an MMPOG, or massively multi-player online game, which attracts people around the world to the same cyberspace playland. “I’m a Level 70 Undead Warlock,” grins Barrett. “It’s my online alter ego.”
Pizey is more extroverted than her colleague. When she moved to Telluride in 1988, she rode into town on her Harley, and two decades later she is the same spunky, tomboyish girl. When she’s not covering an event or coaxing someone to talk on the mic, she’s gardening in dirt-stained work pants or zipping down Gold Hill on skis.
Pizey is a single mom, and her daughter graduated from high school last spring. While her years as a ski bum introduced her to one segment of the community, being a mother connected her to its wider aspects. She married her career with motherhood by working a stint as a teacher and starting various youth programs in Telluride. “I have always had career options here that allowed me to be a parent and work,” says Pizey. “It does take a community to raise a child, and Telluride is a great place to do it.”
Pizey had the flexibility to spend time with her daughter when she was writing for the Telluride Daily Planet and when she was creating her own arts newsletter, “Pandora’s Box.” She worked from home, writing a weekly music column and contributing to the Telluride Bluegrass Festival program. She left Telluride for a couple of years and was the news director on KDNK radio in Carbondale, and even there, she started a program teaching young people about being on the air.
Barrett’s career likewise readied him to find his niche in community journalism. He worked first as a reporter for the Litchfield County Times, a large circulation paper in an elite area in Connecticut, and then at the New York Post, New York City’s afternoon paper and its “second read.” At the Post, says Barrett, “It was all fluff, gore, crime, gossip and sports. But it was a blast, taking the train home and watching people read my articles.”
After the artsy and upscale Connecticut paper and sensational, tabloid-esque New York City paper, he moved to California and found work at another type of news outlet, a Pulitzer Prize-winning community weekly called the Point Reyes Light in west Marin County. There, where the headlines were less obvious, his reporting skills weeded through the murky waters of the small town to bring stories to the surface, teaching him about the role of journalism in a community. He watched as the Point Reyes Light brought people together, connected them. “The most important thing I learned there is that community isn’t necessarily this organic thing that happens,” says Barrett. “It gets created. KOTO sort of helps that happen; it informs people, gives people a common point of reference. Really, this community is just a lot of different groups, and without institutions like KOTO, there wouldn’t be a true community.”
Whether it’s Pizey celebrating the unsung Tellurider or Barrett digging through files and raking the muck, they each add their signature to the nightly newscast. “I think Stephen and I really complement each other,” says Pizey. “He’s good at the hard news, and I get really fired up on the stories that are sort of hidden. It’s not always easy working with someone every day, putting together a good newscast. But together, we do something really well.”