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, 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.