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Chasing Al Franken

By RD Heldenfels Published: October 14, 2006

Sometimes you find a story, sometimes the story finds you.

I had planned to take yesterday afternoon off, only to be told that Al Franken was in Akron for a political speech, and it was mine to cover if I wanted. I went to the speech and was lucky enough to get a moment with him afterward, while people were trying to find his coat. I was also lucky enough to get in a question about Air America, which has had ongoing financial problems. He declined comment, which told me something interesting was going on --  which, I found out later, was the network's filing for bankruptcy protection.

I figured that Franken on Air America would be the lede on my story -- breaking news, after all, and with a local connection. But that opened the door to other issues, including how the filing affected ''Radio Free Ohio,'' which carries parts of Franken's show as well as some other Air America programming.

I hit the station's Web site, which had a statement up about Air America, but also called the operations guy there to elaborate. When we were talking, he said that The Smoking Gun had the papers from the filing and there was a Cleveland investor there. I went to those, and saw the Cleveland guy's name. One, it turns out, who was easily Googled. So I telephoned him, and he was willing to talk, and that gave me even more material.

Long before this point, what had started as a Franken story had turned into an Air America story with Franken in it.  I still included a section about the speech and the atmosphere -- such as the woman asking Franken to autograph a paper plate. But that was after all the Air America information. You can see the end result here.

By the way, you may also note that the story has my new description, as ''popular culture writer,'' that I am finally going to Rich Heldenfels as my byline after more than 30 years as R.D. Partly that's new gig, new name, but it's also changing from a formal name to the one I really go by. (There are very few people in this world who actually know me and call me R.D.)

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