Thursday, October 14, 2010

The last six months have seemed to go faster than any period of my life before now, I think.

My transition to full-time reporter has been fraught with wrenches thrown into the works. The two homicides (one a premeditated, cruel and unusual murder) I covered from my first days of working full time presented a challenge that was personal as well as professional.

Despite an interest in newspapers from a young age (I talked my fourth grade class into starting a class "newspaper" of my first public speaking experiences!), I never studied journalism or intended to pursue it as a career.

The biggest reason was extremely simple. In high school, I had read a book by a journalist talking about realizing, years into his career, that he had ceased to see his subjects as people. He looked for the questions that would bring out the tears. He might act sympathetic, but he didn't hesitate to walk up to a victim of a crime or the relative of someone who had just died, stick a tape recorder in their face, and ask, "How do you feel?"

That's what I never wanted to do, ever. And yet just as I began to work full time, that's what I felt like my job was asking me to do.

The evolution of that story will be told another time, but suffice to say I found my coping resources stretched to breaking. By my fourth day working as an official, full time reporter, I was in the newspaper's parking lot in tears, on the phone with my mother.

Two weeks later, I fell down the stairs and broke the middle finger of my right hand, rendering me unable to write by hand for nearly two months and slowing me down considerably as I attempted to get up to speed as a daily reporter with a challenging beat.

I have never stopped thinking about incorporating social media into my coverage and exploring publishing models. But each time I think I have the ability to do it regularly, I'm pulled off in another direction.

Perhaps more to the point, my "voice" has been buried behind the news I cover. I've worried about compromising relationships necessary to my reporting through writing from my personal viewpoint, especially when I don't have sufficient lay of the land. And I've felt like my commentary on the journalism industry has fallen prey to a rocky transition from a meta, outside view to an internal everyday view - one I very much need, but to which I've had to adjust.

And stylistically...well, as a mentor/editor keeps telling me, "Dare to be boring." (He occasionally follows it with the nickname, "Hamlet" because he says I keep going all "to be or not to be" on him.) Daring to be boring may be helping my journalism, but it's making my other writing, well, boring.

But there's been a slight shift this week. A little more composure. A little more balance. And so - we'll see. Maybe this time's the charm when it comes to social media.

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