“When you see a vacuum, fill it.”


I tell a version of this story every semester. I say “a version” because it’s a 40-year-old memory.

In November 1979, members of the Klan and American Nazis shot and killed five people and wounded 11 others in what has become known as the Greensboro Massacre. I won’t describe it; that’s what the hyperlink is for. It was a national news story for several reasons. A gun fight with five dead in the middle of a housing community. The Klan, Nazis and Communists. And TV and newspaper reporters watched it all happen. (We have film!)

I didn’t live in Greensboro at the time. I was an education reporter at the News & Observer in Raleigh. I was drinking a beer at a friend’s house and watching a football game when a news report about the shooting came on. I thought, “How awful, but that’s one helluva story!” I make no apologies for that reaction. Like many reporters, I see mayhem through two lenses. As a human being, I was appalled by what happened on the city streets. As a journalist, I saw a great news story.

But it wasn’t my city and I wasn’t working that Saturday so I went back to the game.

Across town, another N&O reporter hopped in his car and raced to Greensboro to get the story for the N&O so the paper would have our own story. (I remember the good reporter as Bruce Siceloff; Bruce remembers it as Howard Troxler. Both worked on the State Desk.) The way I heard the story the following Monday was that Siceloff/Troxler didn’t ask an editor for permission to drive the 75 miles to Greensboro. He recognized a good story and he wanted in.

A true reporter, he filled the vacuum.

Meanwhile, I was filling nothing but my stomach, drinking beer and watching a forgettable football game.

Later, I told that story to one of my friends, Cole Campbell. He said, “He filled the vacuum. You didn’t. Here’s your lesson: When you see a vacuum, fill it.”

** Bruce clarifies my memory: “Howard Troxler wrote the main story- I don’t know whether he drove from Raleigh to Greensboro on his own volition or was called at his home that Saturday, as I was.

“By then I was the city govt reporter and I was tired after a long week of early meetings and late meetings. Sorry to confess I was not eager at first to go, but Bob Brooks, the managing editor, was eager. He wanted me to write a sidebar on Communist Workers Party victim Paul Bermanzohn. I wrote instead about previous clashes and the CWP’s rash decision to dare KKK types to show up for their Death to the Klan rally. They showed up with a car trunk full of guns.”

One thought on ““When you see a vacuum, fill it.”

  1. RIP Cole Campbell. One of the most infuriating, and instructive, editors I’ve ever worked for. And that’s saying a lot, considering the giants of the mid-1980s editors I had at the News & Record.

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