At the end of next week, my time at The Evening Sun will be over and there are certainly things I will miss. A few weeks ago I found myself climbing through the fallen timbers left in the wake of a Pharsalia tornado and had the chance to explore the flood damage the day of the storm. Recently I’ve responded to the scene of a head-on crash between a tractor trailer and a pick-up and observed a spirited court debate between attorneys in a drug case involving tens of thousands of dollars.
Of course during about this same three-week period of time, I had two different people threaten to sue me and the newspaper. Just a word of advice to future plaintiffs looking to keep their names out of the police blotter: a threat of a lawsuit isn’t going to work. The pages would’ve been sued blank a long time ago.
Another woman, who was not named in a published black and white photograph, complained when I referred to her unidentified, quarter inch tall image as “elderly.” Honestly I’m not exactly sure if I can offer a clear definition of what I think elderly is, which dawned on me a second or two right after this woman dropped by the office and demanded an explanation. It was one of those surprise reporter quagmires.
Every so often the circumstances of the job set the stage for a great internal debate. Apart from determining the proper time to use the word “elderly,” the job has me tossing the moralities of justice and fairness around in my head at the conclusion of any good court case – especially the ones I know I’ll be writing about the next day. It’s never been my job to create a story, but what particular facts and points to compress in a 400-word article from an hours-long court hearing, can cause a lot of stress. When writing I often imagine how a story may read to a defendant, a victim, the attorneys involved and to someone who’s never heard of the case before. Sometimes my own judgment can be paralyzed by the several different points of view I’m considering.
By imagining the different perspectives, I’m not trying to write an article to make them all happy, but rather the dissenting views help keep my work more balanced.
People often come up and say “make sure you make me sound good” or during a public meeting they’ll say, “this isn’t for publication but ...” Another tip: Don’t say anything in public that’s not meant for public consumption. I know how pesky this can be at those public board meetings and court hearings when there are controversial things to debate, back room comments to make, but that’s exactly why people are required to have them on the record. There’s a time and place for things to go off the record – in the middle of a controversial topic during a public meeting, not so much one of them.
I believe differences of opinion aren’t just reserved for board seats, the jury box or elected officials; every voter, taxpayer or citizen is entitled to theirs, and if my job is done correctly it will hopefully be an informed one. From my point of view, the most informed opinions are the ones well versed in a topic’s controversy.
Even until my last day I’m sure I’ll face a few more of these reporter questions and after I leave, despite the anxiety they’ve caused me over the last five years, I will miss them. They’ve forced me to grow.
“Innocent until proven guilty,” (for example) is a phrase heard by many but nothing drives home the real and practical value of the principle like seeing it first hand. Its just one obvious example of many philosophical-only concepts I’ve had to directly confront during my time at the newspaper.
Though some of the questions I’ve faced have caused a great deal of frustration and anxiety, they have all added to the painful understanding of things in a way I don’t think can be read about in a textbook. Experience speaks volumes, and I have no doubt that my mind will continue to process and weigh what I’ve seen in the last five years for the next ten.