What A Journalist Really Does

Lately I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a journalist, about what it means to me.

To me, being a journalist means being invited into people’s lives during their happiest and saddest times. When someone’s in trouble, a journalist is there (although maybe not as much as we should be, but that’s another story). When someone has a great triumph, a journalist is there.

Being a journalist means calling at the worst possible moment. It means listening to people cry. It means listening to lengthy, entertaining (and sometimes not-so-entertaining) stories about the good ole days, or the good today. Or the bad today.

It means giving people, animals, places a voice when they don’t know how to talk for themselves.

Today, being a journalist meant offering my condolences, knowing I couldn’t do more. It meant saying, “Tell me more” when that’s the last thing the person wanted to do.

I like to think that I offer people an outlet, a way to grieve in those tough times. But realistically I know many of the people I call just want to be left alone.

A couple weeks ago, a horse died. I was to write the obit. I pieced together the story of what happened, and I tried for several minutes to find a phone number for the owner/rider. I couldn’t find one. I was ready to give up, to post an amalgamation of what other news sources had posted. A coworker suggested I contact an organization to which the owner belonged to try to get some contact information. I did, and when I called the owner, my palms were sweating. I didn’t want to talk to her. I didn’t want to face her pain. But we talked. We chatted. She choked up, laughed and just talked.

At the end of the interview, I hung up and realized that I was thankful I called her. From the other reports I got the facts. From her, I got the story.

For me, being a journalist is about taking things that other people can’t deal with and handling it. I handle it, I deal with it. I take a deep breath, separate myself from the situation, murmur my condolences and get to work.

It’s only later, when I’m alone, that the sadness of what happened sinks in. It seeps into my bones, and I grieve. But to the world, I’m just a name that calmly and rationally typed out who, what, when, where and why.

I deal with it.

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