Janesville61.3°

Journalists venture into cold to document day

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ANN MARIE AMES
December 23, 2008
— It's not easy for an outsider—especially a journalist—to make his way into the hearts of Janesville's GM workers.

One freelance journalist must have done something right.


Nathan Weber grinned at 6 a.m. today when somebody ran out of Zoxx 411 Club and handed him a cold can of Miller Lite.


"Was that somebody you interviewed?" he was asked.


"No. Just somebody I drank with," Weber said, sliding the can into the pocket of his snow pants.


Weber, 29, of Chicago was one of a small group of dedicated journalists who braved the cold to cover the last scheduled day of sport utility vehicle production at Janesville's General Motors plant.


The event didn't draw the dozens of news trucks that showed up for previous plant developments. Many reporters who were there today were working on long-term projects.


The first step to getting an interview was breaking the ice, Weber said.


"It's a tough crowd. Comparable to Pittsburgh," he said.


Weber spent days pacing the chain-link fence around the plant and sharing beers with line workers at Zoxx and other bars, he said. It wasn't easy getting interviews, but Weber felt welcome in Janesville and found it similar to his hometown near Asheville, N.C.


Weber is making a multi-media documentary about blue-collar America that will include stories from Janesville's plant. He's been working on the project for a year and a half and drives a semi-trailer truck part time to make ends meet.


Weber has been staying at the Lannon Stone Motel, 1524 E. Racine St., Janesville. He has photographed the chain-link fence around the plant from every angle and accidentally put his notebook through the wash.


But overall, it's been a great experience, Weber said.


"It's just so historic," he said.


Noriaki Takada didn't have a notebook handy when he was trying to get an interview with one worker this morning. Desperate to make a connection, the New York-based correspondent for Nippon Television of Japan bent down and used his bare finger to write his cell phone number in the snow.


Caught up in the moment, Takada forgot he wasn't allowed to be on the sidewalk leading up to the plant. A uniformed security guard quickly escorted Takada back to the street and warned him that a second trip up the sidewalk would earn him an escort from the Janesville Police Department.


Takada and his producer, Ayano Amaba, took a break and sat in the warmth of their tan Suburban.


Taku Nishimae of New York was less rushed to get interviews this morning. He has been in Janesville working on a documentary since October.


Nishimae, a journalist with NHK, Japan's largest public television network, has worked for months on a project that will include stories of GM families, parts suppliers, executives and union officials. He will be back in January, and the program will air in February, he said.


"I've been pleasantly surprised with the level of cooperation I've gotten," Nishimae said. "Even as these people are going through the worst of times."


Nishimae has been a reporter for 23 years and has worked in 48 states, as well as around the world. His time in Janesville has been "tremendous, wonderful," Nishimae said.


"There's a lot of integrity. They're honest," Nishimae said about the people he has met here. "They have big hearts."



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