I’ve been a journalist for most of my life, from my days on the staff of my high school and college newspapers, to working for a daily publication and then eventually back to my roots in community journalism. I wouldn’t know life any other way, so for me this job doesn’t seem unusual.
But to many non-journalists, this job seems interesting and even (gasp) intriguing. Images of Woodward and Bernstein unraveling the Watergate conspiracy, mysterious sources meeting in dark parking decks and calling the editor to tell them to “stop the presses” because you have a sensational breaking story are all fodder of the movies and television.
Well, some of it is, at least. Yes, Nixon was brought down by the work of two investigative reporters and they did have secret meetings with the mysterious Deep Throat. But in small town newspapers, it never gets that exciting. And the only way most reporters or editors can stop the presses is to throw a monkey wrench into the machinery.
As a journalist I get a lot of questions from people about my job. These are the ones most people ask:
5.) Where do you come up with ideas for your column? I rely on personal experiences, observations and sometimes (again, gasp!) opinions. Yes, an opinion column does usually contain the author’s opinion. It is impossible for a journalist not to have an opinion about the things they write about —what’s important is they not let that opinion influence them when they write a news story.
4.) Have you always liked to write? Yes, I have, since I was about 6-7 years old. I wrote science fiction when I was a kid, then when I tried to figure out how to put my knack for writing to use as a career I decided being a reporter sounded good. The thing is, fact is often stranger than fiction — even science fiction — so I was right at home reporting the news.
3.) Don’t you know, print is dead? I heard this for the first time in 1989 attending a press conference at Flint’s Bishop International Airport. A TV cameraman told those of us with the newspapers that when he walked into the room. Well, I’ll admit it has been a bumpy ride in the years since, but newspapers are still here 25 years later.
2.) A reporter? That sounds exciting. Did you ever want to cover a war? Really, it’s not glamorous or exciting, and going off to cover a war is the last thing I’d ever want to do. Here, you upset someone because you wrote a story about them the worst they usually do is call and complain. Over in other countries, when there’s a war, they just shoot you. Or take you hostage because they think a kidnapped journalist is going to fetch them a hefty ransom. No, it just means the news outlet they work for puts out a “we’re hiring” sign.
1.) Have you ever interviewed anyone famous? Sure, but never anyone like a president or the pope. I’ve interviewed comedienne Vicki Lawrence, actor George Takei (Mr. Sulu from Star Trek), Barry Williams (Greg Brady from the Brady Bunch) and probably my favorite interview ever — Bill Cosby. The Cos was terrific, but in the 15 minutes I had to talk to him he never let me get a word in edgewise. He owned that interview — I just wrote down his words.
So if you think journalists are all jet-setting, adventure seeking, crusaders on a mission to save the free world — we’re really not. We just like doing what we enjoy, telling stories.