Reminiscing about reporting

Now that I am no longer reporting the news I’m starting to reminisce about my reporting experiences. There were certainly many of them, but recently I’ve been thinking about some of the experiences that got me in trouble.

Lots of times they were over seemingly little things, but for whatever reason my actions really upset people. Now I realize I could have been more sensitive to the people I was writing about while still conveying the truth.

For example:

1. One time I wrote a story about a group of village residents who opposed a proposed housing development. They ended up suing the village planning board, claiming it gave the project an insufficient environmental review.  The residents won the suit, though that wasn’t enough to keep the project from happening. At a meeting where the planning board approved the project a second time residents expressed their disdain. Some yelled, some stormed out of the room, and some cried. Well, I mentioned that one specific woman rushed out of the room crying. She had been very vocal about the lawsuit. I ended up getting an angry letter from her a few days later saying I had humiliated her. She hadn’t left her home in days. Looking back, I suppose I should have instead written that she was “visibly upset,” or at least not singled her out.

2. One time I wrote a story about how the mayor was threatening to lay off a group of village employees who wanted to unionize. He said it publicly at a village board meeting. Well, my mistake was that I used the word “fire” in my article instead of the words “lay off.” At the time I thought that a layoff was a type of firing. Well technically it is, but the problem is that many people interpret “firing someone” to mean the person was dismissed for doing something wrong. Even though that’s not the dictionary definition, it’s the association that people make.  A layoff, on the other hand, typically results from financial pressure. So I was suggesting that the mayor was threatening to let go village employees for something bad they did, when it really was because increased village salaries would force him to do so. Boy was the mayor mad at me. He publicly humiliated me for months. But at least I learned my lesson.

3. One time I wrote a story about a new diner in town. The story described the diner’s offerings, the owner’s restaurant background, and his decision to open a diner in his hometown, among other topics. One part of my story mentioned how the owner had significantly renovated the diner to make it cleaner and brighter than the previous diner located at that site. I included a quote of his detailing the layers of grease he had to clean off the diner’s ceiling. Anyway, he wasn’t happy I had included that quote in the article. Apparently, he was on fairly good terms with the previous diner’s owner, and he feared the statement would jeopardize his relationship with the man. Anyway, clearly I didn’t make up the quote, but maybe I should have thought twice about putting it in the article. I could have just mentioned that he put a lot of work into renovations and cleaning the diner.

These are just a few examples of times I made “little” mistakes that upset people. I guess sometimes my transgressions were a case of people having thin skin, while other times they were truly a lapse in judgment. But overall these experiences have helped me become more sensitive to accuracy and treating others with respect.

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One Comment on “Reminiscing about reporting”

  1. ina Says:

    I love this post for a couple of reasons. The main one being that I have been at a desk job for so long that I have no idea what a journalism career would even feel like, and that’s fascinating to me.
    The second thing is that I’d probably make even bigger mistakes if it was me writing 🙂 I just tend to totally miss the sensitivity aspect of telling a story. I wish I could still read your articles. Do you still write outside this blog?

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