Reflections of a possible (semi)-retired journalist

The 123 area code blinked multiple times at me. Who is calling me? Why are they calling me?

It was five days after I had left my job as a reporter for a weekly community newspaper. And the “123” area code (real number changed, obviously,) startled me. It was different from my city area code and I just had a feeling it was someone calling me about something related to my old job.

I was done though. I submitted my last pay roll form. My last stories had gone to press a week ago and the paper was already out. There’s nothing I can do for them anymore. I ignored the call. I let it ring and go to voice mail — after all, I was out to lunch with a friend so it would be rude to answer. Even if it was someone I knew, I would not have answered it. The people in front of me always have my undivided attention, always.

The red light lit on my phone. Now I had a voice mail from the mystery person.

I put off listening to the message the rest of the day, worried that it was someone complaining about one of my last stories. He didn’t like it. She thinks I have a fact wrong. They want me to run a correction. Different scenarios started building in my head.

When I arrived home later, I listened to the message.

It wasn’t bad at all.

One of the last stories I wrote was about how a grandfather started a scholarship fund for local kids to support them in the sport of hockey. His young grandson died in a riptide accident a few years ago and he did it to keep his grandson’s love for hockey alive and in memory of the young man. The mystery caller was the grandfather calling to thank me for the story, adding that he had made a lot of good connections with people wanting to help and donate because of it.

I just had to call back. I didn’t have to call back though, but I wanted to.

I told him I received the message and basically thanked him for thanking me.

Since “retiring” from reporting, in two separate incidents, friends have referred to me as “the journalist.” Maybe its in my mannerisms, in the way I act. I will always be “the journalist” of the group.

But, I know that the real reason I am proud of what I did as a journalist was to get those stories out there. To teach others about something, hopefully. To help some heal. To inform others. I’ve always wanted to do meaningful work. I think that most — not all, but most — of what I did during my time as a journalist was. Will I ever return to it?

I don’t know. As we all know, journalism is a tough world out there.

I learned how to take notes on anything — Kleenex boxes in the car, for example. I learned how to be “available” at all times of the day. I learned how to survive an entire work day on a granola bar and water.

I learned so much — about budgets, llamas, homelessness, road engineering, human interaction, just to name a few — from the many people I met. It’s those people. I’ll miss them.

For someone who claims she doesn’t like talking to strangers in “real life,” I guess I did a pretty good job.

Don’t watch, you’re making me nervous

Since I’ve been at my job for a year and three months and three weeks (but who’s counting anyway?) I don’t really get nervous before going out and hunting down sources or making cold phone calls. It’s just part of my job now. Interviewing people is fun because I get to meet and talk to people who will either become important sources later down the line (or, I will never see again!)

Today after an interview, the businesswoman told me she was really nervous before our interview because she had never talked to anyone from a newspaper before. It caught me by surprise. I never thought other people would be intimidated by me. I didn’t think accomplished 39-year-olds would even admit to being nervous talking to me. I told her that she did a fine job but she said it was thanks for me making the situation comfortable. I was easy to talk to, she said.

In fact — she was so scared, or just thought it would be amusing to bring someone along — she had her business friend with her. At the end of the interview her friend asked if it would be OK if her husband emailed me because he was interested in maybe pursuing a career in journalism. “Do you ever have people shadow you?” she asked.

I smirked and said “no” and that having someone follow me around would probably make me nervous. None the less, I told her that I would be happy to answer any questions her husband may have on my job.

It’s like when you can parallel park perfectly when you’re alone but if there’s someone in the passenger seat, you can never seem to park at all. Don’t watch, you’re making me nervous.

Two years ago today, last year today and today today

Two years ago today I was finishing a trip to Angkor Wat with my mom and grandma. I had spent the summer in Phnom Penh, Cambodia reporting at an English language newspaper and they met up with me at the end of my internship.

That summer …

I learned broken phrases (OK, just singular words) in Khmer. I used “awkunh”— thank you — the most.

I learned that riding a moto (with a helmet!) is quite fun.

I learned how to haggle my moto fare.

I learned to appreciate people and things that I did not appreciate as much before.

I learned to be self-reliant.

I learned to travel alone (what up, country-side Cambodia and Thailand!)

I learned that whatever would come next in my life would be much easier.

 

One year ago today I started my first real grown-up job as a reporter in a city community across the Sound from my home city. I knew no one. There was no ultimate Frisbee there. I had no sidewalks to run on in my new neighborhood. In addition to all my new adjustments/inconveniences, I was pretty bad at my job.

After what seemed like making hundreds of calls that first day to various people for multiple stories, I had to go to the local gun club — the county had filed a lawsuit against them. I was kind of nervous. Actually, pretty nervous. Everything turned out OK, I talked to the right people, got decent quotes.

However, in one of my first stories (not the gun club one), I made the worst mistake a reporter could probably make. I misquoted someone. I won’t go into details but it was a very stupid mistake that could have been avoided. Luckily the woman wasn’t upset about it since it wasn’t really for any hard-hitting newsy story. I felt terrible though. I didn’t think I would make it to Christmas at this job. I should just quit already, I thought.

It was too stressful. I wasn’t good enough.

 

Today, I am still at said job. I have way more responsibilities. I’m the only reporter now. And I have significantly improved as a reporter (in terms of getting a hold/stalking people to actually writing stories) than I did one year ago.

I guess I am stronger than I thought. Or, just very tolerant. Or, crazy.

I’ve learned that whatever comes next in my life (once I quit/get a new job/run away) will be much easier.

Your high school self

“When did you know you wanted to be a journalist?” the high school senior asked me.

I provided her with some generic “I-was-a-journalism-major-in-college-and-thus-here-I am”-answer. She accepted it.

I felt bad though because what I really wanted to say was that I still don’t know what I want to do even though here I am interviewing you for a story I’m working on. She told me she plans on going to college somewhere out-of-state but she didn’t really no where. She told me she has interests in art, the sciences and English so she doesn’t really know what she plans to study. And she doesn’t know what her “dream job” is.

I told her that it’s OK — that’s what you go to college for! To figure out what you want to do!

But then I felt bad again because yes, some of us are lucky enough to figure out what it is that we want to do “for the rest of our lives” while in college. And there are the others (i.e. yours truly) who take different courses throughout the four years of higher education, get accepted into the journalism major (after getting rejected from others), and pursue a career in that field.

Funny thing about this girl was that she said she’s a cross-country runner. I asked her if she is involved in anything else at school.

“Not really. Cross-country is my thing,” she replied.

Six years ago, I was in the same position as her. I ran high school cross-country. I had no idea what my goals in life were. And even though I know I have changed a lot from my high school self (gosh , I would hope so!) there are still many similarities now between this girl and I.

 

Everyday inspiration every day

“But don’t you ever want to break* your fast?”

“No, we just think about all the people who are hungry and can’t afford to eat on a regular basis,” he replied.

I immediately thought about how full I was because not only did I pack a pretty decent-sized lunch that I devoured, but I snacked on a bag of Swedish fish on the drive to this man’s house for the interview for my Ramadan story.

*I almost changed this to “brake” because “break” made me think of breakfast and what I should eat in the morning.

I can’t imagine not being able to eat from sunrise to sunset especially in the summer when there is more daylight opposed to the winter months. Because Ramadan follows the lunar calendar, every year the holiday gets pushed back 10-11 days so eventually it cycles through all the months. But for these people, no problem. They are disciplined.

I also can’t imagine being in prison and wanting to “do my part” to help others. But, I met that guy last week for an interview for another story as well.

This man is incarcerated for shooting another human in the mid-90s. He has 10 years left to serve, but he is staying positive. He said he’s learned from his mistakes and regrets everything he has done in the past. He wants to be able to help troubled youth who may be lost so they don’t make the same mistakes he did as a teen. He’s written letters from prison. He’s taking classes to earn his third vocational certificate. He’s working on what may become a book on his life experiences and lessons. Before he was in prison, he said he probably had never completely read one book. Now the list of books he has read is in the 100s.

And then this morning.

This morning I met a couple who take care of their 8-year-old daughter who not only has autism but other ailments that makes her completely dependent on the two of them. She will never be able to live a “normal” life. She cannot read, she cannot be potty-trained, she cannot dress herself. They are trying to raise money to train a dog they recently adopted to become a full service dog for her. She has difficulty adapting to change — even one different turn during a routine drive can leave her screaming and crying. They hope having a companion with her that is always a constant will help her as she grows up.

These are people who inspire me. And maybe, just maybe, someone else will read about their stories and be inspired as well.

Since the economy/job market isn’t getting any better, I’m trying this new thing where I don’t think talk or write about how I dislike my job. It worked, right?

Step-child syndrome

You always hear about those poor children who grow up in broken families where their parents get a divorce and then they have to acclimate to new families because their parents eventually re-marry other people. In the end, the “poor children” end up being just as normal — maybe even better off — than some kids whose parents stay together. Other times, they continue to feel sad and resentful toward their mother or father (or both) because of the new spouse that has become their new step-parent.

I have a new step-parent.

No, my mother and father are happily married.  But, I feel like I have a new step-parent.

I have had the same editor for nearly a year but as of Monday, I have a new one. I was not happy — in fact, I was very angry — at the way things were handled with my former boss’ dismissal. My new editor is aware of this awkward-ness and I feel like he is trying to not step on my toes.

How many stories can you write this week? (My answer: One. No questions were asked.) How did you guys normally operate on deadline day? Where were the files saved? Which briefs do you want to cover? – We can divide them in half.

It’s kind of like the new step-parent that wants to get his new step-child to like him, or at least accept him. Don’t get me wrong, I have no hate toward my new boss. I just kind of feel like this is what it would have been like to have grown up in one of those families …

Even today on deadline, at about 7:30 p.m., he told me I was free to go. There were still about four pages that had not been printed or proofed yet so — being the responsible reporter that I am, thank you very much — I said I was staying. Had I left when he first suggested, it would have been two whole hours early.

Oh, and I got a raise — though minimal, a raise is a raise — today by my publisher. Actually, it’s kind of freaky because my horoscope today said “Cash flow improves.” Some people are trying to get this step-child of theirs to stay in the family. Don’t they know that I can’t be bought through money?

Losing my voice, losing my mind

I’ve never lost my voice — not even from weekend Ultimate tourneys. I had a coach say that if you hadn’t lost your voice by the end of the weekend, then you were not being loud enough on the sidelines for your team. In my head, I was thinking “I am! Some people just don’t ever lose their voices. They have good vocal cords or something.” And then I even helped coach a team one year and with that I was definitely yelling way more than when I was just a player, but nope, no lost voice. Not even a hoarse voice.

Cue laryngitis.

Yesterday I woke up with my voice kind of fading. I knew that what I was calling “allergies” the week before was now a cold. I drank lots of fluids and got 10 hours of sleep.

I woke up this morning with a very hoarse voice. I barely have a voice! And you know what? It’s really difficult to do your job when you have no voice as a reporter. I made a phone call in the morning to one man who I needed to interview for a story. It took five times — yes, FIVE! I am not exaggerating! — of me repeating my name and the name of my newspaper for him to understand who I was. After that, I was so tired and frustrated, I decided to arrange a time with him to continue/do the whole interview tomorrow.

For all those people who claim say that real communication is done non-verbally through a look, a gesture, ARE WRONG. As a journalist, my job is to communicate with others and without a voice, I can’t do it, no matter how hard I try.

Luckily, the doctor prescribed me some meds and said my voice should get better in a few days. (I wish, tomorrow … what about that interview??) And driving to the pharmacy, a George Michael song came on the radio and my automatic reflex was to sing along. I opened my mouth and when nothing followed by scratchy-ness came out, I remembered to stop. How did Ariel do it? — Oh yes, she was doing it for true love, that’s how she got through.

I am stocked with my prescription meds, Robitussin, cough drops, limeade, and cans of soup. If I even have a half-voice by the end of the week, I will be much happier. It’s not like I have a job, or am going to run a half marathon in five days. FIVE DAYS.