Steamboat Springs Thirteen-year-old Trevor Pyle wants to be a journalist when he grows up. So on Wednesday evening at Library Hall at Bud Werner Memorial Library, Trevor walked up to a veteran National Public Radio reporter with his thumbs tucked firmly behind the straps of his plaid backpack.
He looked up at Debbie Elliott, who had just finished giving an hourlong talk to about 50 people, and asked, “What was the most exciting story you ever did?”
Elliott launched into an animated story about the 2009 inauguration of President Barack Obama.
She told Trevor how it was the most people she had ever seen in one place, and she made him giggle when she explained how she had to plaster disposable heating pads on herself to keep from freezing.
“It’s interesting,” Trevor said about why he likes the field of journalism. “It’s the now; it’s what’s happening.”
Elliott, who is visiting her childhood friend and college roommate Paula Salky in Steamboat Springs, visited history classes at Steamboat Springs High School on Wednesday in addition to appearing at the library. She shared a behind-the-scenes view from her nearly 20-year career covering national news for NPR.
“I think it’s important to share what we do and why we do it,” she said after the event.
Elliott is a national correspondent who spent four years at NPR’s Washington, D.C., bureau before returning to the South. Her breadth of coverage includes the BP oil spill and its aftermath, the 2012 campaign trail, the Elian Gonzalez custody dispute, natural disasters and historic court cases.
Salky, a local resident, said she asked her one-time cheerleading teammate to appear at the events because she thought it would be a unique opportunity for the community.
“She’s such a wonderful storyteller,” Salky said. “She has a gift. I love how the stories come across like a movie.”
During Wednesday evening’s talk, Elliott played two stories for the crowd that hit close to home.
It was a series on the aftermath of the BP oil spill, in which she told the story of a Louisiana family with five generations of shrimping heritage. The family’s fleet of shrimp boats was transformed into a fleet of skimming boats, helping to rid their precious gulf of the oil that was devastating their livelihood.
On audience member asked whether Elliott had any advice for the Yampa Valley, a community just beginning to deal with the issue of oil and gas exploration.
“Just be informed, and let your opinions be heard,” Elliott said. “That’s all you can do.”
After playing the story about the shrimping family, an audience member asked Elliott how she maintains her composure in the face of emotional stories like the oil spill and the earthquake in Haiti.
Elliott said she doesn’t.
“I just cry,” she answered. “I’m a crier. That’s what I do. You know, Paula and I were talking about this today, and in some ways, you think … maybe something good can come if you just tell somebody’s story.”
To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@ExploreSteamboat.com