Friday, December 21, 2012

We Few, We Band of Brothers

           Sitting and looking out the window at the Thomas A. Edison rest stop on the Jersey Turnpike, I suddenly realized I was crying.
            I wasn’t just choked up like before. Pulling my baseball cap low over my eyes, I slid a hand up beside my face and unsuccessfully tried to finish my Coke.
I was quiet and no one seemed to notice. If they did, they were polite enough not to stare.
            A few hours earlier, I’d left the Shakespeare Room, a small conference room in a hotel near Newtown, Conn. where a satellite newsroom had been set up for coverage of the Sandy Hook shooting.

            I was finally going home.
            But at the tiny table with my Burger King lunch somewhere in North Jersey, I came apart because I was now completely alone.
            I started working the long days of covering Newtown Saturday after arriving in Connecticut Friday night.
Thursday morning, after five full days of reporting, I was scheduled to finally rotate out and head home, unable to leave The Mercury short-staffed any longer.
            While covering relentlessly horrific and difficult things, I felt like I’d formed a sort of camaraderie with those covering Newtown with me. One person described it as a “brothers in arms” kind of deal.
            We didn’t, and maybe don’t, know each other very well, but those that were there for an extended stay sort of grew together.
            I was uncomfortable and harried every day, constantly nervous and pressing, but at least I had everyone around me through most of it that experienced the same thing. When the day’s work finally wrapped, we all could at least sit together in the hotel bar or lobby and talk through it all.
            Part of the coverage was the funerals. After the first days of trying to get victim profiles through anyone willing to talk (and there weren’t many), the worst jobs were covering funerals. No one wanted to go.
            In my first and only experience, something very difficult happened. I don’t know if I’ll ever really talk about what happened, but I was able to get through it.
            When my editors found out what happened, I was quietly pulled off of doing funerals because there was concern for my “psyche.”
            A few days later, I found out that one of the others I’d worked with was pulling a second or third funeral assignment. I basically begged my assignment editor to put me on instead.
            I’m fairly confident most of the people I was with would have done the same for me.
            We may have all been shell shocked, but we were all trying to look out for each other.
            We shared our grief, respectfully quieted when someone broke down, or listened calmly when someone lashed out at the stress that not only comes with covering such a tragedy but just being in the newspaper business.
            The company always afforded us with opportunities to bow out, to talk with a professional, but it didn’t seem like anyone wanted to miss an assignment and add to another’s workload. Everyone always volunteered to do more.
            Talking with one of the young reporters I’d worked with from the beginning in the  Shakespeare Room late Wednesday night, we discussed what might happen to us after being exposed to this type of coverage, nonstop, for so long.
            We quietly wondered if this is the type of thing that could give you post-traumatic stress disorder. We thought aloud about how we would describe what we did in Newtown to our family and friends. We whispered with uncertainty, “We’re going to be okay.”
            What mattered most was that we were able to be scared together.
            Because of the nature of the situation, I was never happy in Connecticut. But I did feel comfortable in a few moments.
The instance that stands out was after we’d all filed our stories one night after the hectic, soul-shaking first days.
            Around the table in Shakespeare, the usual crew gathered and ate our dinners from the hotel kitchen and waited for the conference call that would decide our assignments for the next day.
            Music was played from a laptop. Someone sang. We listened to catchy but not great pop music and joked about the assignment editor’s affinity for boy bands.
            Leaning in my chair and having the same French fries I’d already had twelve times before, I felt totally comfortable for the first time since I’d gotten to Connecticut.
Sitting in the rest stop Thursday afternoon, I suddenly didn’t have that support group of people who were there, subjected to the same things and feeling the way I did.
            In the rest stop, I could hear people behind me laughing and talking, many of them obviously taking off early to their Christmas destinations. Children laughed and played with the cardboard Burger King crowns and an older woman discussed menu options with a slightly younger woman.
            At the same time, faintly, I could hear a TV somewhere above with the news on, playing more Newtown coverage. I didn’t dare look up.
No one there knew how it had been in Newtown. No one where I was going at home would know it either.
            I thought of the funerals and knocking on doors and the terse phone calls.
            And that’s about when I realized that tears were streaming down my face.
            I’m glad I went to Newtown. The people at the New Haven Register needed help and I hope someone would come to help me if a news event of this magnitude happened near The Mercury.
            I’m glad I covered it because I did my best to be as respectful as possible to the town and the victims, like the rest of the people I worked with, and unlike some of the news agencies I witnessed. I’m still heartbroken for the people there and I hope things start winding down very soon.
            Like everything associated with Newtown and Sandy Hook, it’s definitely going to take some time for me to get right again. I already miss the group of mostly young and all incredibly talented reporters and editors I worked with.
            I don’t feel sorry for myself for a second.
But I’m nervous for those that are still up there.
            As much as I’ve grown to care for Newtown and its people, I grew to care about the people in the Shakespeare Room.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Break

Today, I finally reached a point I had hoped I might escape.

I'm still working the story on the shooting in Newtown, Conn. I just concluded my fourth full day of work, my fifth in the state.

These full days have been running, at the least, twelve hours, sometimes fifteen hours or more, while immersed in the story of what horrific things unfolded last Friday.

Each day, I've had something different to cover, none much easier than the other in terms of difficulty, in terms of skill or emotion.

Since I've had so many different tasks, I've kept my editor at home informed of what's been going on with the coverage, what I've been slated for, just to let her know what The Mercury might want to use for their own coverage of the event.

I'd kept myself together throughout this. Some hadn't. I've heard of a few people losing it a little. Some are amazed they're still okay. The mix of intense work and the intense sadness here is a formula for a breakdown.

At one point yesterday or the day before (time has ceased to exist here), me and the crew of remarkably talented and dedicated journalists in our satellite newsroom discussed when this all became "real" for them.

Some said it was hearing the reports of how many were killed. Others talked about driving into the town and seeing the makeshift memorials.

Mine came Saturday. When the authorities announced, officially, the list of names of those killed, I was sent to the park where the press briefing was held to retrieve a physical copy of the list.

I grabbed it and began driving back to our satellite newsroom with it. At a stoplight, I picked the list up and glanced down at the names on it.

The list included birth dates and I began noticing how many names had "2005" or "2006" in the DOB column. My hand suddenly felt numb and the list slipped from my fingers into the wheel well of the passenger side of my car.

The difficulty of witnessing some things and talking to some people is something I'll probably never encounter again. But I've kept it together.

This morning, as I was filling in my editor on the day's "budget" of stories, she told me about a story involving one victim that was local to our coverage area. She mentioned the child's name.

I replied that I remembered the name, began to say that I thought I'd been assigned the student at one point, then realized it wasn't one of the six or so I'd been assigned to do over the first few days.

I thought I remembered another person doing the profile.

"He did that person," I said. "I think he did. I think, but I'm not sure because there..."

Suddenly, it felt like all the breath had been sucked from my lungs and I physically couldn't speak.

I was going to say, "I'm not sure because there were so many." And in that moment, just hearing my mind say it and trying to speak those words, I suddenly felt paralyzed by grief.

I'd been afraid of reaching the breaking point for days. We've been immersed in such terrible sorrow day in and out that it was always a threat and, suddenly, on the phone with my home paper's editor, I was completely ambushed.

She thought she'd been cut off from my line, or that I'd broken up.

"I said we just each worked a lot," I finished lamely.

There is a lot of backlash to us being in Newtown right now. I can't put myself in the shoes of the people here, but from what I've gathered from the criticisms and anger vocalized at us, many think we're just trying to capitalize on a sensational news story, that each painful interview is just a feather in our cap.

But from what I've witnessed from others with me who have worked so hard and from what I felt myself this morning when I finally ran into a wall, we're here because we feel telling what happened is indescribably important. In the same breath, I can say we all are affected very deeply by this, we care very much for those it touched, and we truly wish that this all never happened.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Our Hearts Are Broken

For those of you that don't know, I'm currently up in Connecticut covering the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

Friday, I'd been following the news from the Pottstown Mercury's newsroom relatively closely.

I went out for lunch, came back, and was told my company was looking for volunteers to help out our sister paper in New Haven, the Register. I considered it for a few second,s then agreed to go because I knew I'd regret it if I didn't.

After running home, grabbing clothes for three days with no idea how long I'd really be there, I drove five hours and got to New Haven after 10 p.m.

For the entirety of Saturday and Sunday, I've been working non-stop, catching 5 hours of sleep at most, trying to catch up with victims' stories, running on tasks to help create articles, gathering data and contacts and whatever I can.

It's been difficult. It's been gut-wrenching at times, forcing yourself to call and look for someone that might share a story about the worst thing they've ever experienced.

This hasn't been fun, by any means. It hasn't been an adventure for me.

There have been times when I've been faced with a task that I've been almost terrified to take. But each time, doing it, I told myself, "Tomorrow, you'll have already done this. Get it done and it will be over tomorrow."

But what is really terrifying, what I almost cannot handle, is that there are people in the town I've been through a few times that can't tell themselves that, that, tomorrow, things will be exactly as they were today, they'll never be "done."

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Why I Worked Thanksgiving

I’ve mentioned a few times in this blog and elsewhere that despite liking what I do, I do often feel a grind on my job. I won’t belabor that point further. I think you probably get it if you’re one of my faithful blog readers (all four of you).

I worked Thanksgiving this year. When you’re a reporter, you really can’t count on having the day off for every holiday. Since I haven’t put much time in (I’m actually just through my first year at the Mercury, no longer a rookie as of a week ago) I really don’t count on having off for more than half the holidays that a traditional 9-5 guy in an office might expect.

This year, I made sure to volunteer to work over Thanksgiving.

The reason for that was two of my best friends were getting married the weekend of Thanksgiving in their hometown in southern Minnesota. Everyone from our usual crew at the University of Wisconsin was getting back together.

 Sadly, we can never get back together at this bar, though. Why, oh why, did you have to go, Brothers?

I’ve lived in the Philadelphia area my whole life. I’m very tight with my parents and my two sisters. My grandmother lived with us and functioned as an extra mother for the first half of  my life. 

I’ve always had a very strong sense of family.

I chose to go to the University of Wisconsin for many reasons, but two stood out as deciding factors: one was the fact that it has a top-level journalism school and the other was that I wanted to try something different, to try a grand new adventure and see if I could make it starting from scratch.

Heading to Madison was the first time in my life that I was completely alone. I knew no one. After spending approximately 18 years with it, I had distanced myself about 900 miles from my support network that not only included my family but friends I’d known as long as kindergarten in some cases.

As things progressed, the core group of friends I made at Wisconsin became a new family. Of course, we did the things any college kid does: partied together, drank together, took ill-advised photos of each other.

 The night this was taken is also known as "The Night Sondra Can't Be President Anymore" 
because of one or two of those aforementioned pictures.

Really, though, the things that made my close friends in Wisconsin my family were the parts that really seem so insignificant but, looking back, make you smile or laugh or tear up (from laughing or otherwise), just like the family I was raised by and with. 

Those moments were things like watching Sunday football at the girls’ place while I waited for my clothes to finish drying at the laundromat, having a catch on the first, nice days of spring with the guys, helping cook a homemade pizza on a random weeknight, or sitting and smiling at a restaurant long after we’d finished our meals.

They became a group of people I would never have gotten through school without.

For that reason, I volunteered to work Thanksgviing, including the seven straight days that led up to it, including filming a playoff football game in which my hands got so cold I couldn’t feel the iPhone in my hands, including three late meeting nights.

It was a grind. Wednesday night, sitting in a bar, I realized I still had one day left to go after finishing my seventh and literally wimpered over my beer. It was pathetic. You should have heard it.

I was exhausted, spent, as tired as I’ve been in a long time.

But I would have worked 22 days straight, worked Christmas, New Year’s, Easter and the 4th of July because I was going to Greg and Rachel’s wedding so I could see them, Paz, Katie, Sondra, Steph, Maria, Leslie and the Joes. And I was going because they’re my family and it was worth every second I spent on the clock to see them again.

 Thanksgiving 2010. I'm the bald guy.
 Thanks for the break, guys.


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Goodbye Babylon

So, this is a post about my colleague, Brandie Kessler, leaving for a new job in the fairytale land of York, Pa.

But I couldn't think of a good title and went with my standby, naming it after a song I like.

If I remember correctly, Brandie was the first reporter I met here at the Mercury (meaning Evan must not have been working that day or was out of the office when I came in). Brandie showed me the basic things you'd need to know in the day to day here: numbers for police departments, how to file the obituaries, what bin has police reports, where the candy is kept when we have it.

For the first four or five months, Brandie would help me out, providing suggestions on how to do something or where I could call to get certain info. But she would always preface or conclude any advice with some variation of: "You don't have to do this, I'm not trying to tell you what to do, you could also just do you own thing."

That has since disappeared (or maybe I've just completely tuned it out).

Something I have not been able to tune out is her enthusiasm for soccer.

For me, soccer has always been to sport what hipsters are to general society: something that thinks of itself as very cool and legitimate but hard to take seriously and thought of as almost a parody of itself by the vast majority of everyone else.

I don't like hipsters. I don't like soccer. 

But Brandie seems to live for the sport and one of my favorite memories was during the U.S.-Japan gold medal game in the Olympics this summer.

Brandie had it on and lived and died with every play, muttering terrible curses most of the time while watching the TV behind my back. I documented her watching through photos I posted to Twitter. (You'll have to dig for them.)

At one point, there was a pretty involved storm outside and she joked about what would happen if the power went out.

Less than five minutes later, boom, everything goes dark.

The whining "No!" from her behind me was somewhere between 6-year-old dropping a lollipop and Luke Skywalker being told his dad is the guy that just cut his hand off.

Going back to cursing: there was a time in this newsroom that, as far as I knew, it was open season to voice your frustration in whatever four-letter word best described your anxiety.

Sometime in the winter/early spring, we got a note saying otherwise. Since then, cursing has been like bootlegging in Prohibition in here. It's done, it's generally known about, but it's frowned upon if you're blatant with it.

Shortly after that note went out, Brandie took great pleasure in reading a quote out of one of the police reports she'd picked up.

"Give me the FUCKING car, motherFUCKER!" she yelled. (It was something to that effect)

Nancy, our editor gave her a pointed look and Brandie looked back.

"I was just quoting something from a story," she said, matter-of-factly.

I'm not sure what Nancy heard, but I definitely heard a six-year-old again, saying, "Nyah-nyah, you can't get me."

The six-year-old quality of Brandie is definitely her appeal, though. She's lost none of the enthusiasm you'd usually associate with a little kid.

She is competitive almost to a fault, and for that reason she dives into stories without reservation. God forbid if TV cameras show up for a story. If they do, she'll hit a source up for all he or she's worth because Brandie wants the story better than anyone else will have it.

That competitiveness jumpstarted our "Fill the Lab" food drive, during which we tried to get as much food and laundry detergent as we could so that we might have been able to fill our media lab.

All throughout that campaign, she said, "We're winning!" or "We're gonna win!"

I never got her to pin down what the hell we were winning or who we were even competing against, but her "winning" attitude fed a lot of people that really needed it this past spring and summer.

As you grow older, especially in a business like this where you encounter or discuss sad or terrible things almost daily, there is a certain jadedness you attain. Some of the comments I make now as a 24-year-old would probably sound pretty harsh to the 21-year-old journalism student I was before I started getting paid to write. But that's just the way things go.

With Brandie, however, her six years here don't seem to make her nearly as jaded as I've become in just one year. She still seems to feel as deeply for everyone she writes about and still feels the vitriol for the criminals.

More than a few times, I've called her "Captain America" for her desire to write about the bad guys and hold them publicly responsible. Just a week ago, I asked her how many times she's cried while on the clock.

Those qualities, to feel so deeply about what you do despite a sensory overload that comes daily, are probably what make her good at what she does and why we're definitely going to be taking a pretty big hit here at The Mercury after Sunday.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Rocking in the (More or Less, Depending on Election Results) Free World

I always want to do a blog post about music because I am almost always listening to it while on the job, whether I'm at my desk writing a story, driving out to a school board meeting or a football game to cover, or whistling it to myself while I wait to speak with a fire chief after a house burns down.

This Tuesday will likely be no different.

Election night in a newsroom is hectic. Results come in, you try to reach out to candidates and the newly elected, people don't answer phones because they're angry they lost or drunk because they's a little much.

 Tuesday, 11:21 p.m.

Lucky for me, this time around, we don't have many local races to watch. Last year, I was covering one (particularly nasty) school board race and four local council races. It was slightly difficult figuring out who won, who lost, who was bending the truth, and how to write everything coherently in just a few hours.

But, it got done, as it does every time around in every newsroom in America.

In those newsrooms, election day is marked by two things important things: deadlines are usually a little later and food pizza is always provided.

So as I chomp down on a few slices of pepperoni this year waiting for the results of Dr. Manhattan vs. Hellboy...
...the following is what I'll be listening to.

- "The Time Has Come" by The Chambers Brothers
 If I had succeeded in my dream of becoming the Philadelphia Phillies' closer, this would have been my entrance music. But Tuesday, it will probably be the music I start my shift with.

- "Florida" by Modest Mouse
If you win Florida, you pretty much win the United States. So, you know, if you want to be president, start getting Mickey Mouse's endorsement. He is an influential resident.

- "Electable (Give It Up)" by Jimmy Eat World 
 A lot of the lyrics in this song seem to hold pretty true to the candidates we've been seeing in my lifetime. Probably before, too.

- "Strange Times" by The Black Keys
I think the song title and refrain pretty much describe day-to-day in this election cycle.

- "I Don't Care" by The Roots
Every shift I listen to at least one Roots song. Unless I substitute that out for one...

- "Freaks and Geeks" by Childish Gambino
...Childish Gambino song.

- "This Too Shall Pass" by Ok Go
Like any article or story I work on, whether it goes my way or not, there's always the next day and a different thing to write. Certain days, that's all I have to go on. On an unrelated note, this concert on Halloween my senior year in Madison was the best I've ever been to.

- "Long Drink Blues" by Smooth Streets Project
A tradition at the end of Election Night in most newsrooms is that everyone grabs a drink. This is my latest jam involving alcohol.  

- "Your Hand in Mine" by Explosions in the Sky
As a rule, I try to end any and every night with a post-rock song, and Explosions in the Sky is one of the best post-rock bands out there. As corny and idealistic as it sounds, and as impossible as it will be, you'd hope that everyone could at least put aside most of their differences after the election and move forward together with whoever wins.

But, as has been sadly evidenced, that really only happens when our worlds come crashing down.

To all my journalism friends that I know will be a part of their respective outlets' "All hands on deck" approach to Election Night this year, Godspeed and good drinking.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Universal Truths of the Newsroom

I'm closing in on my first full year working for the Pottstown Mercury, my first full year in the same newsroom, if you don't count the "newsroom" for my high school paper (an under-used computer room branching off from the school library).

As is a theme among many of my posts here, I've been learning a lot of things about the business. I've learned a lot of practical things, a lot of useful things.

But the things I've learned and place the most stock in are The Universal Truths of the Newsroom.

They're second only to The Ten Commandments but just as serious.

I'll run through a few of those.

1. Somebody else's soup or Italian food they just heated up in the microwave smells like it will taste infinitely better than whatever you have for lunch.

I thought I was all set one day because I had minestrone soup (so I had both the soup and the Italian angle covered), then one of the sports guys heated up his meatball sub. Game over.

2. Your phone only rings with the info you've been waiting ALL DAY FOR when you are at the point furthest from your desk in the newsroom.

More than a few times, I've gone all the way up to my editor's desk to talk to her just to make my phone ring. It works almost every time. I'm considering annexing a spot by the coat rack down past sports land in photo's territory so I can make a nice, comfortable nest to wait in for my phone to ring off the hook with every story I've ever wanted to cover in my life.

3. The stories you and your colleagues in the newsroom find funny are strange and disturbing to all others.

I first got an inkling of this when I told my parents a story from my intern days in Delco that culminated with a burning body. At dinner. In public. No one laughed.

4. The story that will surely win you a Pulitzer will pass like dust in the wind. The story you don't give a second thought to will be your legacy forever and ever. 

I did a three part series on a non-profit and a two-part series on the tug-of-war struggles for students and funding between public and charter schools over the past year that I poured more blood, sweat and arthritis-inducing keyboard pounding into than anything in my life. Both of those series came and went.

My editor pitched me a story, casually, via email, of a child with a genetic skin condition recently, to which I replied, "Sure, why not?"

That story ended up turning into three articles, netted me about a dozen phone calls, more emails, and Anderson Cooper eventually picked it up for his morning talk show.

CNN passed on my charter schools story, last I heard.

5. A lot of people you deal with won't like you. There's nothing you can do about it, so you might as well enjoy it.

A colleague recently told me about an official that specifically said they don't like me.

My reaction went something like, "Haha, no way!"

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Sometimes, writers have no words

For a long time, I've struggled to think of how I might describe 9-11 to my kids.

It's in the nature of children to question people older than them about something they haven't experienced, whether it's a food they haven't tried, a person they haven't met, or an event they weren't around for.

I wasn't necessarily there, but I experienced 9-11. Everyone did, to varying degrees. It's the same as when I asked my grandmother about Pearl Harbor, even though she was in Western Pennsylvania, not Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941.

So the question will come some day. And when I think about it, I'm not sure how to put it into words.

Like it or not, 9-11 was a benchmark for the U.S. There was a clear change in the direction the country was heading, in the sensibilities and emotions everyone felt. I won't try to qualify it, to say whether we've grown as a nation or gotten worse.

What is clear in my mind is that 9-11 was the event that re-introduced fear to us as a people.

I'm not sure when the last time was that we really were afraid as a country like we have been since Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. Maybe it was the Cuban Missile Crisis. For my generation, we had never experienced this. We were too young and nothing ever really hit home before.

Maybe that's one way to describe 9-11: it was the start of a country-wide culture of fear.

It's fear of terrorists, fear that politicians or officials may allow something bad to happen again, fear of losing our place in the world, fear that what we thought our place in the world was wrong, just fear. It may have abated a little, but it certainly spikes and it never seems completely gone.

This could be what it was like to grow up during the height Cold War, I obviously don't know. But 9-11 definitely seemed to put the U.S. on an edge me, my friends, and my classmates had never experienced before.

Still, the reintroduction of fear isn't a description of 9-11 itself.

Additionally, I've heard a lot of stories about the aftermath, of the country coming together, of people volunteering and doing so much good, and also of the wars that followed the attacks.

I witnessed one of those instances of people stepping up, coming together. I was playing fall baseball at the time and during one of my games in one of the weeks after, my sisters, 11 and 9 at the time, set up a card table and sold baked goods in the park where the field was. The money they made went to New York, where people were still digging through the wreckage of the towers.

But all of those things  aren't 9-11. They're results of it, sure, but I would never think to include them in a description to my children about that event.

So, as I've pored over that day and how I might explain it, flashes of what I saw on television and the information I gathered from friends comes back to me.

There are several stark moments that rush back every time.

I remember feeling an incredible tightness in my stomach after hearing that more than half the FDNY was unaccounted for.

I remember trying to sleep that night in my suburban home, far away from any high population, high value target, but sweating and almost unable to catch my breath anytime I heard anything that sounded like a jet engine.

I remember my heart breaking hearing stories of hospitals in New York going to full staff, only to have a small trickle of patients come in, the rest lost.

Most of all, the moment that drove everything home for me, I remember the first time I saw footage of a person falling from the World Trade Center buildings. I'd never seen a person die before, but on a sunny day just a few weeks into my seventh grade year, I saw someone die in the most horrific way I could think of.

Since then, I've seen and heard some terrible things. I'll have occasional nightmares about some of the heavier things I've covered. It's part of being a news reporter and a human being.

Even still, I don't think I can really explain 9-11. My experiences with it are just small snapshots and I honestly don't know what I'd say to actually really describe what happened.

Just one sentence always comes back to me.

"It was the worst thing I've ever seen."

A child probably won't be satisfied with that answer. I wouldn't have been.

But, as the years pass, more and more, I think there may not be any other way to possibly explain it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Look! Summer's no fun

I haven't blogged in forever and a certain co-worker gave me crap for that so here is my triumphant return.
Look! It's my remaining audience.
I'm more than a year into being a professional journalist and I'm about a month and a half into being terrifically burnt-out.

Summers apparently change as you become an adult and they also change tremendously when you become a journalist for a paper with only a handful of reporters available in the newsroom.

No longer do I have time for such frivolous things like swimming or seeing the sun. 

Now, I vigilantly wait for the next drug-fueled car crash or sex scandal to write up and further coax along my budding carpal tunnel syndrome.

As such, I've become a bright, sunshiny person.
Look! Another bright sunshiny person like me.
So, here's a bright, sunshiny, list of further things I've learned about  being a journalist during this summer of my discontent.

1. A large contingent of people you regularly cover hate you. Hate you to death. 

I'm not sure I can blame them. By its nature, being in the news usually denotes talking about some sort of tense or generally uncomfortable situation. It can also denote some kind of crisis, scandal, or worse, a Crisis of Scandals.
Look! Outside the lines: classic case of a Crisis of Scandals.
If I'm regularly covering a person, I generally know what's up and don't really need to ask very many questions, especially the in-depth types. So when I talk to them and ask a few more questions than, "Are (insert number) or (insert number) participating in (insert charity fundraiser)?" people get nervous. And then probably angry when they read the article the next day.

Obviously, that goes the same for any and every criminal story I ever write because mom and pop don't generally like seeing "(insert son's name) arrested for (insert unspeakable crime)."

2. Counting calories sucks.

Although unrelated to being a journalist at first glance, one of my few pleasures when there's no spot news was breaking my unremitting stare at a computer screen by going downstairs and grabbing a Cherry Coke from the vending machine.

But since I decided to stop being fat, Coke, and those brief, blissful trips to the vending machine, have become a thing of the past.

Look! The equivalent of being on the exercise bike for seven and a half hours.
3.  Police Scanners: Your best and worst friends.

Police scanners are vital to local newspapers like The Mercury. You find out what's going on quickly and are able to get out and get real, for-live spot news that reads so much better than a press release that simplifies a building housing aliens and their dear friend Elvis Pressley exploding into a million pieces into four uninteresting lines of words.
Look! This is what comes up when you type "Elvis alien" into Google image search.
However, as great as scanners are for writing news, they have a tremendous duality. Whenever you don't want them to, whether you're working on an incredibly in-depth, intricate story, about to grab food for the first time in 12 hours, or are three minutes from finishing your shift and going home, the scanner will bark something out like "automatic weapon fire reported" or "Tyrannosaurus eating children."

Both those cases are equally likely in my book, because automatic weapons fire never is actually automatic weapons fire or anything newsworthy, just like a Tyrannosaurus will never eat a child in Boyertown.

But if I hear it, which always seems to be two minutes before my shift ends, I can't not check it out. If this is the one time that someone snapped and pulled out his AR-15 or a T-Rex went after Tommy and Sally, if I missed it, I'd pretty much have to get fired.

And so I run on those scanner calls, putting off dates, drinking with friends, sports, all of the only types of things you want to do in the summer when you're 23. And, inevitably, after digging around, it becomes nothing, it's 9:30 p.m., and I still have an hour-long drive home.

But there is that duality, like I said.

In some cases, the scanner seems to feel bad for you, so on a slow day, it'll provide you with a little comedy.

Last week, a report came in of a man who nearly crashed his motorcycle.

"The workers at the quarry say they saw him. They think he's drunk. They said he almost crashed, got off, stood on the side of the road, then performed a sobriety test on himself. Then, I guess, he got back on the bike and drove off. So, because of that performance, the workers think he's drunk."


That was also the same day the scanner had a report of a domestic dispute outside of our coverage area where a man and his mother were fighting on their driveway outside. When police showed up, the two  said they were fighting because they "were trying to catch criminals."

So the scanner giveth (sometimes) and it taketh away (much more).

But, as burnt-out as I am, as much as my fingers hurt from pounding my keyboard (I really should type softer), I still like my job. It's still interesting, I still like the challenges, and I still feel proud of what I do.

I don't think that'll change, even as I bid goodbye to a lost summer.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Frequently Asked Questions (By Me)

So, it’s been a little while since I’ve posted.
First, I’ve been pretty busy with a lot of different stories. Second, I’m a little lazy because of that.
 ^Time spent not writing
As much as I like writing, when you do it day in and day out, even the fun stuff, like a blog, becomes a task and you develop sort of an aversion to it.
So that explains myself, I hope.
In any case, though I’m still a little busy and don’t have much time, I figured I could write a short and sweet one up for this week.
While working in the newsroom and talking with other staff members here, I’ve developed little, somewhat honest questions about life.
I figure I can share them with you here and, maybe, get some answers while also displaying my likely stupidity.
Here goes:
1.      Do dogs that have cancer lose their hair? (My childhood dog had stomach cancer but never got chemotherapy treatment or anything, so her hair stayed.)

2.      After discussing Nadya Suleman (Octomom) and her financial situation (stripping for food) I wondered whether you pay by the kid for invitro-fertilization, which I’ve heard is very expensive. Does the bill increase as more and more keep spilling out in the delivery room?
 That's like $750,000 worth of baby, right?

3.      Do penguins accidentally hit on other penguins’ lifemates as much as humans do?
 If I were a penguin on the dating scene, I'd totally be the one on the right pretending to see a plane.

4.      Do you have to salute the state auditor general? Curtsy? 
 Pictured, PA Auditor General Jack Wagner

Now, since I’ve posed so many questions, I’ll share one thing I’ve learned on the job.
After reading so many police reports and hearing so many stories, I’d say that 30 to 40 percent of those arrested either urinate or defecate themselves.
Even if my figures are off, it is a staggering amount.
As such, word to the wise, don’t sit down in a police station’s common area. Just don’t.