Sunday, November 2, 2008

Someone has to do it....but not me

As someone who’s always wanted to write and call it a living, meaning there’s actual pay involved, I’ve once again confirmed why I’ll never be a newspaper reporter.

Not that I haven’t written for newspapers before. The first story I ever sold was to a Sunday magazine for a statewide newspaper. Ironically, it was about being ordinary. “Ordinary is being able to name 6 of the 7 dwarfs, 7 of Santa’s 8 reindeer and having to mumble, ‘30 days has September, April, June and November’”. You get the idea. Working rotating shifts at the time as a state police dispatcher, quiet Midnights enabled me to write and sell them two more pieces over the next couple of years. Being accepted was gratifying considering how many stories were submitted statewide.

But I digress.

As much as I love research, facts and finding out “the rest of the story”, I don’t have the stomach to get in someone’s face during a moment of tragedy. I could never ask, “So, you just lost your house in a fire, your children are missing and a tornado tossed a tree across your car and smashed it to bits. How do you feel?”

I have a conscious. And it works. To be a good reporter, you need to have the ability to occasionally switch that off and become clinically impartial.

I have no idea where that switch is…or if I even have one.

A good reporter is all business, sometimes even cutthroat in racing to tell a story first. If you can push aside old ladies, step over dead bodies and continue to question the grieving long after anyone with half a heart would’ve quit, you too could win a Pulitzer Prize. Sure. Someone has to do that. Just not me.

I write what “real” reporters refer to as “fluff”. Feel good stories. Stories that make you cheer someone on to victory and give them a standing ovation when they arrive. There’s enough gloom and doom in the world. Most of it on the front page. I’m just one of those people who prefers to shine a light on those the world has overlooked while they were doing the right thing, even if it was the difficult thing. I love finding out why a person is they way they are but if it means poking them with questions until they bleed, it’s not worth it. Not to me.

Driving home Saturday after taking some things to my aunt in the nursing home, I came upon a knot of police cars, blue lights flashing everywhere. As a kid, I knew this was a quiet neighborhood where people raised kids with values and more love than money. Time has erased some of the morals once found there, but the economic status remains the same.

It’s amazing how much the brain can absorb in just a glance. Especially color. To my right was bright yellow crime scene tape. A blue clad, stone faced policeman was posted in front of it. Yet his face was pale, hinting that someone worse than usual had occurred. Across the street a photographer from the local paper pointed a huge white telephoto lens at the scene. Next door was a young female reporter, her face as red as the shirt she was wearing. As she left the neighbor’s front doorstep, no doubt in search of a quote using words like “shocked” and “afraid”, her expression remained with me all the way home.

She wasn’t sad or disappointed. Stomping back to the scene she looked angry. Very angry.

Later that afternoon when I turned on the computer, I discovered what had happened. A 22 year old ex-con, afraid he was about to be robbed by someone knocking on his door, opened fire with an AK-47. After he sprayed 30 rounds through the closed door, leaving a 12 year old Trick-or-Treater dead and two family members injured. Mom was sitting in the car and witnessed the whole thing.

You know reading it is bad enough. I don’t have the stomach to be the one demanding the facts necessary to write it.

The local paper has a position open. Currently, I’m not happy at work. And yet, applying is not a temptation. Why? Because when getting the story is more important than the people blindsided by a tragedy, that’s not journalism. That’s voyeurism at it’s worst.

Guess I’ll just continue to write for the OTHER local paper, where headlines applaud those who have succeeded and cheer on those who are trying. Sure, it’s a charitable effort on my part since it comes with no pay. But at least I can sleep at night.


Matthew S. Urdan said...

Just catching up on your posts....thanks for all the comments on the pic of the Dog going trick or treating....

Been busy with a new project....get a preview here: Inside Government.


hope said...

Thanks for stopping by. Can't wait to see how your new project comes out!

Poetikat said...

Like you, my conscience would never allow me to get in someone's face.
I started out a couple of years ago, writing topical poetry, but I couldn't bring myself to write stuff that hurt or offended. When I did create something of that nature, I hid it away.
I like the "fluffy" pieces. There's no shame in writing entertainment and making people happy and you can hold true to your values.


Terence McDanger said...

I love fluffy bits too. I have many of them myself, principally my bellybutton.

I actually had a friend working for a national tabloid over here at one stage, he quit because he couldn't stand being pressured by his bosses to get down and dirty to get stories. He hated the thoughts of pressuring grieving families for quotes etc. I empathised completely, I couldn't do it either. I can't even sympathise with a family at a funeral, never mind whip out a notepad and start rapping off questions with fake concern in my voice...

hope said...

See, I KNEW you were good people. :)