‘You Can’t Really Get the Truth if You Don’t Look Someone in the Eye’: The Southwest Ledger’s M. Scott Carter
By Jessica Barfield
M. Scott Carter stopped by the Oklahoma City Community College Pioneer newsroom in the first eight weeks of spring to motivate students pursuing careers in journalism.
“My family has long deep ties to this state, my father and several of my brothers worked in the oil industry. And as you guys know oil and gas, and Oklahoma kind of go hand in hand. There are a lot of us, spread all over the state, our roots run deep. I took a different path: I wanted to tell stories, I wanted to write, and I wanted to take pictures, and so I went into journalism,” Carter said.
Carter studied at Northern Oklahoma College in Tahlequah before transferring to the University of Oklahoma for his bachelor’s degree.
At the age of 47, he decided to return to school for his master’s degree in Professional Writing from the University of Oklahoma’s Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.
He worked as an investigative reporter for Oklahoma Watch before accepting the position as Professor of Journalism at Oklahoma City Community College for nearly three years. There he taught not only journalism, but photojournalism, feature writing and served as the faculty advisor for the Pioneer newspaper.
Currently, Carter holds the title as the Capital Bureau Chief of the Oklahoma State Capitol Legislature Government for the newspaper, Southwest Ledger.
Carter elaborated on his passion for journalism.
“A side of me really enjoys stirring up trouble, it just really does. And a side of me really wants to—is curious. Why do they do things this way? And I don’t mean just curious about institutions, I mean curious about people,” he said.
The classroom was asked how many students with modern technology today still read print newspapers.
Only one student raised their hand.
The students were then asked how they received their news, and the responses were the same, cell phones and social media.
“We deliver journalism now differently than when I was a young journalist, but you still want the news; you still want the message. It’s just the delivery mechanism that has changed,” he said.
Students took turns discussing what made them want to go into journalism, while Carter followed up with insight on what he has found important through his experience.
“What you should seek is the best, attainable version of the truth because the truth is elusive. The truth changes, it morphs, it evolves,” he said.
Carter stressed the importance of face-to-face, in person interactions with people when looking for the truth.
“You can’t really get the truth if you don’t look someone in the eye. That is one thing I will leave you with,” he said.
Throughout his career, there have been many memorable experiences as he told tales of people he has helped, and presidents he has conversed with, but one story he came across without any subjects of notoriety.
He recalls how his youngest son was born with heart defects, and ultimately had to have surgery. He was waiting in the lobby of the hospital when he noticed an older woman.
“There was this little granny lady who looked to be about 150 years old,” he joked. “She was sitting there knitting. I had been there all day, and she hadn’t left. She looked kind of frail.”
Carter said, “I asked her, ‘Can I get you something to drink? You’ve been there a long time.’ She said, ‘Oh no honey, this is what I do.” He immediately preceded with, “Well what are you doing?”
The woman began to explain that she was knitting outfits for the premature babies, “so the nurses can rock them to Jesus.”
That every year there are premature babies that pass away, and she refused to let them go without something that someone made for them.
“I did not make it through this interview, story took me two weeks to write.” Carter said.
“But God it was a great story. That’s journalism because that lady was anonymous. Nobody knew who she was. You want the truth? That’s the truth.”