(From Amanda Mortimer, TODAY Associate Producer)
One of the nice things about producing stories at Today is the variety of work we get to do. Producers might develop niches or specialties, but we all pitch in and do what's needed, whether it's news or fashion, health or entertainment, business or features. We do a little bit of everything.
While some of the work is glamorous, most of it's not. But the best thing about the work I do is the people I meet. And I don't mean celebrities or politicians or newsmakers. I mean real people. A lot of the stories I tend to produce don't feature famous people - they feature real people - working moms and dads, teachers, happy children, sick children and the doctors who treat them, neighbors and grandparents... the people on your street. They aren't extraordinary people - generally ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances doing extraordinary things - and they're willing to share their stories.
Like the Hartmans... The Hartmans live on a quiet, tree-lined street in a suburb of Detroit, MI. They have two children - and each has Autism. I first met them when their daughter Mary Ellen was 4 and their son Tommy was 2 1/2. I spent three days with the Hartmans in January of 2005 during Tommy's evaluation and diagnosis of Autism at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor.
For hours each day, I crouched in the corner of Tommy's exam room watching him respond to questions, prompts and instructions with frustration, sometimes laughter - but no words. I watching him smile at bubbles, flap his arms in sheer joy and tantrum wildly. I was inside the tiny meeting room when psychologist Catherine Lord told the Hartmans that, like his older sister, Tommy did have Autism. And I interviewed them, one at a time, moments later. They were candid. They were heroic. At that moment, Kim and Tom Hartman were the bravest people I'd ever met. They were steadfast in their commitment to their children and getting them the best therapy they could manage. And they recognized the need to still let Tommy be Tommy - the sweet, animated little boy he was. WATCH VIDEO
One year later, I returned to Michigan and the Hartmans home to see Tommy once non-verbal - talking. He had made great progress in his therapies and was beginning to spend time in a less restrictive classroom at the school he attended a few hours each week. Once again, Today show cameras accompanied the Hartmans and Tommy to the University of Michigan for his one-year evaluation and were allowed full access to the testing, evaluation and discussion. WATCH VIDEO
At one point during our visit, Tommy ran up and gave me a big barrel hug around my middle and then continued to the door. Kim said she was amazed at how he warmed to me - a relative stranger. And before I left she thanked me repeatedly for coming, for spending time with them, for telling their story.
I was shooting a much simpler, less-involved story recently that brought me inside the home of another family - this one in New Jersey. The dad works nights so he can take care of his two young girls during the day and my camera man and I spent the better part of a day following this modern-day-Mr. Mom around the house. Six hours later the girls were asking if we'd stay for a "sleep-over" and the parents were gushing about how terrific it had been to have us.
As I rode back to the city that night, it really made me pause. Here are these people with perfectly busy lives throwing open their doors, letting us in and then thanking us for it. And not just thanking us - but trusting us. Trusting that as we sit at their kitchen tables, play with their kids and interview them in their own backyards, that we're actually listening. The Hartmans trusted us. So did the Browns in New Jersey. They trust that we listen, that we do our homework and that we care about getting their story right.
We cover a lot of big news stories and celebrities and scandal and politics... but it's the real people who let us into their lives everyday to tell a simple story that I want to thank. Thank you for letting us in. Thank you for sharing your stories. Thank you for trusting us.