Yes, I do love my job.
I am a community news journalist. I work where I live. I write about the people that I interact with on a daily basis. My children go to school with the same children that I often write about.
I live in your typical small town America. People know each other; people know each other’s history.
In my job, I can find myself covering a school board meeting, a municipal meeting, writing an obituary or birth announcement or finding myself having to interview someone going through a major tragedy. It may seem humble compared to the bright lights and big city, but the writing that I do and the articles the local people read makes a difference to them and in their lives.
Often times, I get stopped at the grocery store and told something along the lines of, “Hey I have a great story idea for you,” or something like, “Hey, you didn’t hear this from me, but did you know that …” It can get interesting. My kids don’t want to go to the store with me too much because they are concerned we will get stuck in the aisle somewhere hearing about the latest and greatest of whatever.
The thing I love about my job is that it helps people to document their lives. When their kids make the honor roll, I type it in for inclusion in the school section. When they have a baby, it type it in for inclusion in birth announcements. When their child’s school is doing a fundraiser, I type it in for public announcements. When their spouse gets a rare form of cancer and the whole community rallies around them as what happened with a beloved orchestra teacher who had a stomach cancer that required treatment in Washington, D.C., I have the duty of going to interview them about their experience and then do the best I can to write a story that honors their experience and encourages others. When a long-lost child adopted away at an early age finds his or her biological parents, I get to document the harrowing emotions and the joyful reunion. When a 4-H member is training dogs for the blind to be guide dogs, I get to take pictures of the training and then interview the youngster doing the work.
I never really know what is coming next. I just have to be ready for it. For instance, I had to cover a massive car accident on the highway only to discover that one of my dear friends’ oldest children was involved. At that point, I had to squelch my emotions and do the best I could to get the information, remain calm, be there to comfort my friend and still make deadline. One of the coolest projects I did was a look at the daily grind of various people in different jobs. I spent a day with each of them documenting what their day is like. One was a drive-thru coffee attendant, another was a bookkeeper, another a garbage collector and another was the owner/manager of a copy and print shop. However, the one I had the most fun with was the woman who runs a daycare. Documenting how many times she picked up a kid and wiped a snotty nose and changed diapers was quite the chore. I was tired just watching her.
Of course, there are times when this close knit community can get a bit too close. I remember one day I went to a local elementary school to do a story on the project they were undertaking via the Internet to study New Zealand. It was particularly engaging as the kids had each become pen pals with a student in the corresponding course and the kids were very open to talking to me about what they were learning. It was one of the best classroom visits ever because the kids were so engaging. Sometimes, it can be quite difficult to get kids to open up when their classroom environment is altered even by a reporter. So, I was feeling pretty good about it all when I took my son to swim lessons that night. I was getting changed in the locker room when I noticed one of the young girls from that classroom was peeking around the corner. She said, “Hey, Mom, Mom, guess what, guess what. That is the lady from the newspaper who came to our class today.” So, there I was buck naked with a second-grade student pointing at me introducing me to her mother in professional terms. Let’s just say I did the best I could to grab a towel, cover up and say, “Hi, nice to meet you. I sure enjoyed going to your daughter’s classroom today.”
While I mostly enjoy the connection with the people who live around me and who read the paper and whose lives I write about, that connection was a bit too much. I laugh about it now, but it was somewhat uncomfortable.
To me, the greatest professional satisfaction comes when someone tells me something like, “Thanks for that article you did. I cut it out and hung it on the front of the fridge.” Or they might tell me that the article is being photo copied for inclusion in their holiday newsletter to friends and family elsewhere. Perhaps the greatest compliment comes when they tell me that they clipped it out of the newspaper and put it in their scrapbook so they can go back to it again and again.
The great satisfaction is being able to add to how well people know and love their community. There is a great deal of peace that I receive from knowing that the work I do at least gave someone an opportunity to just sit and read for a spell and to forget about their own problems if even only for a very short period of time. Being a communicator is a responsibility I take to heart and hope that the pen follows suit.