Monday, April 28, 2008

The worst part of my job

As much as I love journalism, some parts of it make me feel, well, a little compromised.
Sunday I'm the editor and reporter for the day, and there was a traffic crash over the police scanner yesterday. After a while I heard that there were two young kids in the car, both were critical, and that at least one person was dead.
I know what some of you are thinking. Sweet! Front page news! But I really, really hate going to these things. I always feel like such a vulture. Still, it is news, and so I sighed, grabbed my notebook and ran out the door to head to the scene.
I rarely do these things anymore. I have a column and mostly report on entertainment and outdoors news and features. But when you work for a 25,000-circulation newspaper, you have to be flexible.
One of these days I'm going to take a look at how these things are scarring me, but for the moment I just took notes and tried to ignore the blood. I made a note of the small baby shoe in the middle of the highway resting among the ocean of bits of shattered glass and the awful, crumpled shell of the car totally smashed to bits by the semi-truck parked alongside of the road.
"I don't see how anyone could survive that," I thought to myself.
I spotted the truck driver gathering things out of his cab and debated with myself about approaching him. Part of me wanted to give him a chance to talk. Part of me wanted a good story. Part of me also wanted to leave him the hell alone, and the last part wouldn't blame him if he punched me in the mouth after approaching him.
I wondered what to do when a FOX cameraman approached me.
"He'll probably talk," he said. "But he didn't want to go on camera."
Then he paused.
"This is what we can do," he said. "You can try to interview him, and I'll follow you about 10 feet from behind, and as long as he sees the camera, it'll be OK and we'll get him on film. It works every time."
I couldn't believe what I was wearing. The guy, a big, burly man, was so shaken by the crash, even though it was nowhere near his fault (she pulled out in front of him), that tears ran down his face and he looked like he wanted to throw up. And this guy wants to trick him?
The Tribune is in a partnership with FOX, but my glare gave him a pretty good answer.
"Yeah, I don't want to ruin the story for you," he said. "Why don't you try it first?"
TV never ceases to amaze me. I realize there are some good ones out there, but I haven't met many.
I swallowed hard and approached the man. All he could say was no. I don't think he'll hit me.
He was more than generous and answered my questions and then stopped the interview after a few minutes when he couldn't stop crying. I thanked him and had him spell his name.
Then I left and wrote the story.
I left the office feeling a bit dirty and insensitive. My high and mighty attitude toward TV disappeared as I closed my computer down for the night. Was I any better?
I'm not sure today.


kurokitty said...

I am always amazed that people are willing to talk and what they are willing to say during all kinds of breaking news, more than what I think I'd say if the pen and pad were aimed at me.

Nice story. I'd bring up the I feel terrible quote after the second graf and move up the account of the accident higher as well.

From one journalist to another, I hope you don't feel too bad about interviewing the truck driver. It's important that he's able to tell his side of the story.

You have a job to do and showed good initiative getting out to the scene.

I worked at a 25K circulation paper a decade ago in the Pacific Northwest. It was one of the best experiences of my life. I'd say that newspaper circs are a lot like limits in poker -- move up as soon as you can.

lightning36 said...

17 people have died on those roads this year? Is there a reason why this area is so dangerous? Isn't there anything that can be done?

Very shocking numbers.

KenP said...

You wrote an honest story while in the company of folks who'd have used/edited/whatever.

I can understand you not enjoying it. But, understand you were the right guy for the job! You remain the right guy.