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A Nevada Historian On His Newspaper Days

Fred Wasser

Historian Michael Green holding a copy of the Valley Times, which served Las Vegas from 1959 to 1984

We’ve all pondered the role that chance plays in our lives.

When he was just 16 years old Michael Green of Las Vegas was giving a speech at a Rotary Club contest.  His topic was journalism – and he spoke about the importance of truth.

A man came up to him after the speech and identified himself as Robert Brown of The Valley Times. So began a stint as a cub reporter.

Michael Green tells this story in his essay, “Growing Up Amid History.”

Green worked at the paper, which closed in 1984 because of financial problems, on weekends and six nights a week while going to UNLV.

“I loved the people," he said, "Some of them are still among my closest friends. I loved being involved in journalism."

The Valley Times/June 13, 1984/Photo courtesy: Fred Wasser

Green thought he was going to be a reporter, but instead, he was involved with all aspects of the process from laying out the look of the paper to editing articles.

But his first assignment was a simple one: find out what was going on around the city.

“My first assignment was to come in on the weekends and call the police for stories,” he said.

After calling the police and finding out what had happened, he would write up an article based on that information.

But it was the biggest story of his life that actually changed his life's trajectory. 

He was assigned to cover President Ronald Reagan's visit to Southern Nevada in the fall of 1982. 

While in the gaggle of reporters watching the president's speech, he noticed the president's press secretary. He went over to him and asked him a few questions. 

The front page of The Valley Times from June 10, 1984/Photo courtesy: Fred Wasser

While writing up the article for the paper, Green realized he had just covered the President of the United States but was still in basic journalism classes at UNLV.

He decided to switch to history but stay with journalism as his professional goal. 

The ultimate decision to leave the journalism field and focus entirely on academics was based on his belief that he wasn't ready to hustle for stories.

“I began to feel that I was too lazy physically to be a good reporter,” he said.

The essay is included in the new book, “Back to Where You Once Belonged: Las Vegas Writers Weigh the Power of the Past" edited by Scott Dickensheets and Geoff Schumacher.

Courtesy: Huntington Press, Las Vegas

Dickensheets said he was surprised by the essay turned in by Green. He was expecting an academic essay about the power of the past and how it weighs on the future, but instead, he got a personal essay about Green's past.

“What we were hoping for was to get a variety of different vectors from the writers about they were going to tackle this topic," he said, "We choose writers that we thought would give us a variety of different approaches to the idea of the power of the past on the present.”

Dickensheets notes that history always has power in Las Vegas in lots of different ways.

“Las Vegas has a complicated relationship with the idea of history, not just the old bromide about ‘we implode our history’… people come here for a few days at a time to escape their history. People are always turning up here on the lam from somewhere else.”

Green believes that mixed in with history is how we remember it. We are often nostalgic for a way of life that didn't exist and underplay what did exist. 

“For me, the power of the past, I grew up here and it can be as simple as why I always seem to be five minutes late," he said, "I don’t understand the traffic. It never used to be here.”

The book will be part of the 2017 Las Vegas Book Festival, which is this weekend.

Nevada Public Radio listeners know Michael Green well. He’s an author, historian, UNLV professor, and writer for Nevada Public Radio’s “Nevada Yesterdays” series.

The Vegas Valley Book Festival presents:

The Las Vegas Writes Project Book Launch and Conversation with the Authors
Thursday, October 19, 2017
7 p.m.
Clark County Library Theatre
1401 East Flamingo Road
Free and Open to the Public 

Michael Green, Associate Professor, UNLV Department of History; Scott Dickensheets, Deputy Editor, Desert Companion magazine

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Since June 2015, Fred has been a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada.