Protected: I’m a part of that… aren’t I?

The first reporting class I took in j-school was JN311, Intro to Reporting. It was mostly what you’d expect of an introductory course: we covered the five W’s and H, made mention of AP style and were required to do some reporting and writing in a lab setting.

But one day’s lesson stood out. In the second half of the semester we talked about disaster coverage. That sort of situation is exactly why I didn’t want to work at a newspaper–you never know when you’ll be called into a delicate situation, when you’ll be interviewing people whose relatives have just passed away.

Our guest speaker that day was (if I remember correctly) an editor from the local paper. Roughly three years earlier, a significant tornado had hit the city and one of the paper’s photographers was among the first on the scene. The speaker recounted the photographer’s experience as he captured this news-worthy but oh-so-delicate event.

My assignment yesterday wasn’t quite a natural disaster in the sense that a tornado is, but it was the first time I’ve interviewed someone days after they’ve lost a family member. I went through the motions of reporting in something of a haze–I wanted to take down every piece of information I was able and to retell the story for the public, but I wanted to do so with gentleness and respect.

My 25 inch (or roughly 800 word) story ran on the front page of our local section today. I poured all I could into recounting the events of this local family: the granddaughter has been in the hospital with cancer (oh, just visit! its so sad to hear about that kind of drugs), and on Sunday night her grandparents and younger brother were in a car accident while travelling to see her. The grandfather was killed instantly and the grandmother is in critical condition. The boy survived without injury.

I blinked back tears as I met friends of the family and wrote the story yesterday… and again today as I began to receive phone calls and e-mails from readers.

As much as I love magazines, as much as I love a good clip… my life and my work are not about me.

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