Citizen journalist

May 1, 2013

Jack Sutton, OD, never had any intention of becoming a journalist. During college, he never stepped foot in a writing class. He never wrote for the school’s newspaper. He never even applied for journalism jobs.

Jack Sutton, OD, never had any intention of becoming a journalist. During college, he never stepped foot in a writing class. He never wrote for the school’s newspaper. He never even applied for journalism jobs.

But Dr. Sutton has a natural talent for storytelling. For nearly 30 years he has scripted, shot, edited, narrated, and produced hundreds of TV shows or segments that have been broadcast on PBS, The Discovery Channel, and KTVN, the CBS-affiliate TV station in Reno, NV. In 2010, he was inducted into the Nevada Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame.

“I’ve always produced my stories between Fridays and Sundays,” explained Dr. Sutton, a private practitioner in Reno. “It never interfered with my clinic hours. I still work 4 days a week.”

Telling people stories

“My work has always been a celebration of the people in my stories, not about me,” he said. Dr. Sutton’s people stories have included ranchers, marathon runners, and the homeless. One of his favorite stories told of a 103 year-old schoolteacher who was born and raised on her family’s ranch in Washoe Valley, NV. Dr. Sutton said the ranch was in the same location as the Ponderosa, the Cartwright family ranch featured in the TV Western series, “Bonanza.”

Coincidence? Maybe.

“It was just priceless to have met her and talk about her experiences meeting some of those early Nevada characters, “ he said, pointing to William James, a famous cowboy artist she had befriended.

Dr. Sutton’s own story began in the late 1970s when a college buddy who was the news director at KTVN approached him with a tempting offer: produce brief segments on health and fitness for the local TV station. Dr. Sutton’s background was in exercise physiology. While in the Army, he also taught exercise courses and afterward became very involved in running and training people for marathons.

While flattered, Dr. Sutton was more interested in establishing his optometry practice and gracefully declined. But his college friend was persistent. Three months later, Dr. Sutton became a TV reporter, producing health and fitness segments twice a week for nearly 1 year, which appeared on “Live at 5,” a 30-minute program dedicated to community events and interests.

“Stories are easy to tell, no matter how long or short they are,” he said, adding that the segments mostly focused on local athletes and offered health tips. “Everything is in three-act plays. I introduce the character in a situation, develop the situation, then in the third act, come to some sort of resolution or explain why there is no resolution.”

Gaining traction

Dr. Sutton was very busy in 1982. While practicing as an optometrist, he enrolled in several graduate courses in journalism at the University of Missouri, produced 2-minute segments for the local evening news, and then later expanded his niche to human-interest stories. His series called “The Invisible Society, A Study in Homelessness” won an Emmy along with a national award from the National Association of Christians and Jews in 1982. Dr. Sutton said he actually lived on and off with homeless people for 1 week so he could better understand their challenges, circumstances and, in some cases, lifestyle choice.

Likewise, Dr. Sutton and two associates formed a production company called Trails West Productions. For more than 20 years, Trails West produced a series of documentaries for PBS and The Discovery Channel that included The Ranch Hand; Grandpa’s Tractor: The History of Farming in the Midwest; The Wild Horse in the American West; Collecting the Old West; and The American Biker.

“When you look at the flavor of my stories, they describe a person and how that person fits into the scheme of preserving what’s good and what’s right in America-family values, love of country, and preserving the heritage of an area,” Dr. Sutton said. “Kids can know where, as Nevadans, we’ve come from and how that knowledge can help us get to where we may want to go.”

National recognition

His reputation as a journalist flourished, not only in Reno, but also in Northern California and Idaho where his programs were also broadcast. You can log on to www.ktvn.com to see dozens of his recent stories.

“Over the years I've taught broadcast story telling, videography, writing, and editing to affiliate markets, but these days only to local teams here on the West coast,” he said.

While Dr. Sutton enjoys being both an optometrist and journalist, he keeps those worlds separate. His face is rarely shown in his programs. You also won’t find any kudos at his practice highlighting his journalistic accomplishments.

“I’ve seen other reporters whose work is similar to mine,” Dr. Sutton said. “They say, ‘Hi, I’m so and so. Look at how much fun I’m having. Don’t you wish you were me?’ That’s never been my approach. I'll produce several stories without a stand-up or presence other than voice, until news directors order me to be seen. Then I'll do a couple that way and get back to giving those seven or eight seconds back to the real stars.”

Although it’s always an honor to be recognized by peers, Dr. Sutton said his job satisfaction doesn’t come from accolades. It comes from being genuinely connected to people and their lives.

“I want viewers to appreciate the people or subjects in my stories,” he said. “When someone says they really liked one of my stories or can somehow connect, that’s all the reward in the world I need.”ODT