A tough way to make a living
Compared to where I am and what I do now, it truly does seem like different lifetime when I worked as a TV news reporter. For me, I look back on my time in that career and it’s almost like when I’ve just finished reading a long trilogy, and that all that news business stuff happened in the first couple pages of Book One. So long ago the details are now a bit fuzzy.
While some might think I still have a foot in news, given that I fill this space each week in a newspaper, this is a far cry from reporting. It’s simply 800 words of my opinion on something that has already happened. I don’t break stories. I don’t investigate anything or check in with an extensive list of sources. I don’t even deliver needed information in a timely manner. I just armchair quarterback all that stuff.
Occasionally someone will ask me why I got out of the news business, and my answers are often nebulous. I usually say something like, "I don’t have the right hair for TV."
It’s almost like asking someone why he or she got divorced a decade after the papers were signed. At the time there were very good reasons, but years pass and the wounds heal, the hurt subsides and you just say, "We weren’t really compatible" when at the time you would have gone into a detailed account of your former spouse’s shortcomings.
But the cloud of haze about my past life lifted this week. Every time I turned on the TV I was tragically reminded why I pursued other career options. Telling the story of other people’s heartache is a tough way to make a living.
Last week started with the devastating bombings during the Boston Marathon. Normally a storyline that includes brutal death, war-like injuries, a terror attack, a shootout with police, a major city on lockdown and massive manhunt is one that is directed by Quentin Tarantino. But of course it was painfully real. Instead of sitting in a movie theatre watching it unfold, most of us were parked on the couch in our living rooms, very uneasy about how it would all end.
Like many Americans, I couldn’t peel myself away from the TV. When I wasn’t in front of one, I was constantly refreshing my phone for updates.
It was during on of those refreshers I saw the news about someone mailing letters laced with poisonous ricin to a U.S. senator and the president. Then followed news of a massive earth-shaking explosion in West, Texas. A fertilizer plant blew up, killing at least 14, though as of today people are still unaccounted for. Over two hundred were injured, and dozens of people lost their homes.
On any normal week, the latter two events would have been the lead story on every news channel in America. This week they were buried a few minutes into the newscast, or on page three of major newspapers. The drama in Boston was just too surreal. It commanded the headlines.
In times of crisis, we look to the police and the EMTs and our elected officials to keep us safe. We look to journalists to keep us informed. Though that is changing rapidly.
I left news long before 24/7 coverage was the norm. Long before social media and smart phones made it possible to anyone to be a reporter and, in the case of the Boston bombings, help provide crucial evidence. Back then you had to have a degree to be a reporter. Now you just need a Twitter handle and a few followers.
Anyone with Internet access can be a journalist.
As I watched and read the news, I remembered the feeling of desperately trying to get accurate information to the masses, scrambling to break something, even the slightest morsel of new information. Pestering police. Calling parents who were still trying to come to terms with the tragic loss of their child, begging for an on-camera interview.
And I couldn’t believe these tragedies were once competitive events for me. A different lifetime ago indeed.
This past week I was able to feel and express the normal emotions — sadness, disbelief, compassion, anger. When it’s your job to get the story, you have to shelf all that. There’s an emotional armor you have to wear, and often times it leaves permanent calluses.
Perhaps I was never cut out to be a hard-news reporter. But rest assured, those who are do not have an easy job.
Amy Roberts is a longtime Park City resident, freelance writer and the proud owner of two ill-behaved rescue dogs, Boston and Stanley.
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