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After three decades of international news, Oklahoman Mike Boettcher returns to teach

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On June 1, 1980, an Oklahoman appeared on the first live shot of CNN, or "chicken noodle news" network, as it was called back then.

Mike Boettcher, a graduate from the University of Oklahoma and a Ponca City native, took a chance on the network, which in its first stages was often ridiculed. Little did anyone know, CNN would soon be one of the most powerful news sources in the world.

But Boettcher began his journalism career while still in college at KEDC and KTOK radio, he said. After graduation, Boettcher began working in Newsroom 9, or News9, as it's called today.

"In the early 1970s, the Oklahoma City news market was one of the most vibrant in the United States. There was just an exceptional number of talented journalists eagerly following stories at all levels," said Joe Foote, dean of the Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication at OU.

Foote said Boettcher was a great example of the journalistic talent of Oklahoma City.

"It was an extraordinary occurrence that you would have so many budding journalists in one city at one time," he said.

Many of the Oklahoma City journalists went on to network success, Foote said. This was due to the news director for Newsroom 9 in the 1970s, Ed Turner. Turner, who left Newsroom 9 after hiring Boettcher, worked in Washington, D.C., and later became one of the founders of CNN, bringing some Oklahoma City talent with him.

"(Ed) asked me if I was willing to take a risk and do a little thing called CNN. So I moved to Atlanta," Boettcher said.

Because he was one of the only reporters for CNN, Boettcher was sent all around the world, making him one of the fledgling network's most experienced reporters in a short period of time, he said. For 30 years, Boettcher enjoyed a long career in broadcast journalism with both NBC and CNN.

He has covered numerous conflict zones, and was an embedded journalist in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In those conflict zones, Boettcher has been subject to some of his own dangerous situations.

Covering events in El Salvador in 1985, people who claimed to be Salvadorian rebels kidnapped him and threatened his life, he said. Miraculously, he survived. But that hasn't been his only dangerous encounter.

While reporting in Baghdad in 2006 and staying at the NBC bureau, a suicide bomber detonated a 1,000-pound bomb in a van, he said. Everyone inside the news bureau survived, but those outside did not.

Boettcher's wife, Katherine, said being married to a journalist who covers conflicts is sometimes frightening, but she is lucky to have the relief of seeing her husband on air and knowing he's OK. Despite all the danger, her husband just wants to inform the world, she said.

"If there's a story, he feels a responsibility to tell the story. It's not just a drive just blindly to go get a story. He wants to get the story so he can help get it out to the world. His reaction is to run toward the fire, not away from it," she said.

Although he left Oklahoma in the '80s, Boettcher remained proud to be an Oklahoman. Unfortunately, the federal building bombing sent him back to his home state to cover the 1995 terrorist attack. Boettcher was one of four journalists who had an interview with Timothy McVeigh.

"One of the things I studied at OU was international terrorism. That is something I have covered and been a part of and investigated for many, many years," Boettcher said. "Before I came back to Oklahoma City, I had covered many events just like that. And I always thought, as all Americans thought, that we were immune to such a thing. When I arrived in Oklahoma City and saw what had happened and smelled that smell of death, explosives and fire, it made me sick because this is my home."

Boettcher remained in Oklahoma City for a few months to investigate the bombing. His efforts were doubled in order to find out what happened in his home state, he said. But that wasn't his last tie with Oklahoma.

Boettcher ended his contract with NBC after trying to convince them to embed him full-time with the military in Iraq and Afghanistan, he said.

Originally NBC bought the idea, but eventually turned him down. Still determined to tell the stories of those overseas, Boettcher sought out someone who could post streaming videos of his broadcasts. Boettcher struck a deal with The Oklahoman's NewsOK.com as well as ABC, he said. With this son Carlos by his side, Boettcher lived with the soldiers and reported their lives. While overseas, Boettcher also worked with OU. He taught a class via satellite to journalism and international and area studies students.

"I think you can't discount the fact that he was sitting in the seats where they sat just a few years ago and the impact it has on students," Foote said.

Currently, Boettcher is a visiting professor in the OU journalism department and is grateful to be back home and out of danger, he said. Although technology and time have changed Oklahoma, Boettcher believes it is still a good news market.

"People still remain proud that they're from Oklahoma. Those things remain constant. That makes me smile," he said.

His wife said the most important thing about her husband is his true commitment to treating everyone equally.

"It doesn't matter if somebody is at the head of a country or a refugee, he cares equally," she said. "To him, everybody's important at the same level."

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