As a reporter, I’m never sure what my day will be like. I can be at my desk writing a story about gas prices, and a call will come in about a fire at a school or a train that has run off track. And I grab a notebook and go.
Journalism chronicles events in real time, and the job’s fast pace and constant change are my favorite perks. I’ve been a reporter for newspapers and magazines in New England for 15 years. The styles and formats of those publications varied, but my job as a journalist remained the same: I write stories that provide information that the public wants, needs and has a right to know. Whether you’re print journalist, or a reporter for television or radio, the job is about getting the facts and presenting them clearly and concisely. Who, what, where, when and why are the universal guidelines.
At my first job, I covered the New England fishing industry’s fight to survive one of the worst moments in its 400-year history. Economic and environmental factors were forcing families, who had fished for generations, to scrap their boats. Many journalists focused on the crisis of declining fish populations. I interviewed fishing families, and tried to tell their stories.
Fishermen felt I had given them a voice, and they were grateful. Bringing to light stories about people and problems that are ignored or misunderstood is one of the most satisfying parts of my job. On a scale of 1 to 10, those are the moments when I give journalism a solid 10.
But not all stories are compelling, especially for reporters who write for local newspapers. I’ve covered school committees, zoning boards and public works departments, and I’ve fallen asleep at meetings where town officials spend hours debating the pros and cons of a new snow plow. Still, information I report affects the lives of residents in a community, and I try to remember that when an editor asks me to write a story about storm drainage.
Sometimes, small-town reporters catch a break. While I was covering the waterfront at my first job, Hollywood came to town to shoot “The Perfect Storm,” a movie about a local fishing boat. The director wanted local support, so when it came to interviews, I got to cut to the front of a line of television crews and big-name journalists to talk to the film’s stars, George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg. Journalism can get you a front-row seat to a lot of events – but also a lot of tragedies. I’ve reported on child abuse cases that still haunt me, and I’ve been at crime and accidents scenes that I will never forget.
People think reporters write about crime because it sells newspapers. But most crime stories are written to inform the public. If houses are being robbed in your neighborhood, or if people are being mugged in the park where you jog, journalists feel you have a right to know.
I’ve learned the hard way that skepticism is a healthy trait, and you can never check facts enough. People don’t usually lie, but they do mislead, and it’s often the people you figure you can trust. A police sergeant once handed me an arrest warrant for a sex offender on probation who committed an assault. The sergeant knew I would write that story, but it wasn't true. He missed a probation hearing and warrants for probation violators list the original charge. The subject of my story explained that to me when he came to our newsroom to knock out my teeth for reporting on a crime he didn’t commit. We worked it out.
In school, journalists learn that fairness is critical, and bias and favoritism can cost you your professional credibility. You don’t hear about the personal price of fairness. Wives and mothers have begged me not to report the arrests of sons and husbands for fear it will damage their reputations and careers. I can’t do it, and I’ve lost friends because of it.
My job often takes a toll on the rest of my life. News doesn’t stop for birthdays or holidays, and I’ve missed many because of work. I’m always on a deadline, and the stress is constant. And no matter where I go on vacation, there’s news. It’s almost impossible to stop thinking about work.
Still, I’m a journalist for life. As newspapers transition from hard copy to online publications, I hope I can still report on the world around me with videos and other tools that will bring stories to life. It will be a faster, bigger world, with lots of opportunities for journalists.
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