Posted tagged ‘Newspaper’

He seemed so happy

November 19, 2010

This post is way overdue. It’s about an incident that took place a few years ago. A guy I wrote a couple of news articles about shot himself inside his trolley car home. Here’s a link to the article I wrote about his historic trolley car in November 2006.

In August 2007 I wrote an article about his upcoming Habitat for Humanity trip to Romania. For that interview, he had me over to his trolley car for lunch. We sat at his outdoor picnic table, in a wooded area beside a bubbling creek. It was quite a picturesque scene, and one reason neighbors had complained about pest control trucks driving back and forth in this neighborhood (I wrote about this topic, too; the article is at the bottom of the page).

For the Romania interview, Mr. Trolley made delicious chicken salad sandwiches, and served them with strawberry wine. He also had me taste some special cheese he had ordered from the West Coast, where he used to live. As a reporter I wasn’t supposed to accept gifts or meals, but this was one of the few times I did. I felt it would be rude to turn down his nice gesture. In addition to telling me about his planned trip to Romania, he told me about a recent spinal cord injury that was really impacting his daily life. He seemed very distraught about this, but I thought he’d be OK.

A  few months later I heard he had shot himself inside his trolley. He was dead. I had never personally known anyone who committed suicide. This was a shock. I didn’t know what to think. I figured his injury may have played a role in his despair. I also knew he had been through a tough divorce and his daughter was siding with her mother (according to him). He had been involved with contracting work but maybe that work had dried up. Maybe he was at the edge and some incident occurred to push him over. Or maybe he had been planning this. I’m not sure.

I remember when I went to his trolley to interview him for the trolley story. He was so jolly and proud to show off his special abode. He had it all lit up in a beautiful way. He had put so much care into restoring it, into making sure the home was well insulated, repainted, etc.

I remember he loved the story. He called me up right after he read it and said it was perfect. I remember I got a lot of positive feedback from others as well. They like the historical aspect. Anyway, I’m saddened to think that such a good person was prompted to end his life. Maybe he was in such pain, though, that he’s in a better place now. Either way, it makes me realize that life is so fragile and anything we can do to to make others happy is energy well spent. You never know when someone is right at the edge.

Writing about yourself

October 24, 2010

I started this blog about a year ago, around when I was leaving my job as a newspaper reporter. I think I realized I still wanted to write and exercise my web publishing skills. Well this blog hasn’t exactly been a huge success (I don’t update it every day, I’m not focused on one particular topic, and I only get about 30 page views per day), but I’m still going to keep it up. One thing it’s done is encourage me to talk about myself.

When you’re a traditional news reporter, you’re not supposed to inject any opinion or personal anecdotes into your work. Your job is to communicate what’s happening and that’s it. Well, I did this for five years (first as an intern reporter, then in journalism grad school, and then as a staff reporter).

This was a great experience; however, I feel like I lost some of my spunk. Someone would ask me how I was feeling, or what was new in my life, and I would give some generic answer. I’d say, for example, “Oh, work is good. I like my new apartment, and I’m excited for my upcoming trip to Philadelphia.” I wouldn’t really go beyond that; I think it was largely because of my job.

Not only was I unable to inject my thoughts into my work, but I also felt like my life wasn’t worth talking about. I mean, when you’re writing about newsworthy topics like murders and municipal lawsuits and local geniuses, your life seems pretty boring. You’re not much different than your common man, so why mention or analyze your mundane experiences?

Well, I haven’t become an advocate of talking about myself all the time. Obviously that isn’t what people want to hear. But since I stopped working as a reporter I’ve become more attune to my thoughts and expressing them when the appropriate opportunity presents itself. This blog has helped with that, and I think all this is a good thing.

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It helps when you have a story

April 15, 2010

This is part two in my reminiscing about reporting series. I thought I would use this post to discuss a reporter’s challenge of finding a story.

You may think that a reporter should always be able to find a story. No matter where he is, he should have a keen enough eye to notice a trend, interesting person, or potentially life-changing news item.

Well, I’m sorry to break it to you but that’s not the case. I’m not only speaking from my experience, but from the experience of reporters I’ve worked and spoken with. It’s especially the case when you are under pressure to find and write a story in a narrow window of time, and covering a small town.

When I was a reporter in upstate New York I was on the “towns” beat. You may think, “Cool, that must have given you great experience with town government and local issues that really affect people.” The answer would be “Yes, sometimes that happened.”

But a substantial amount of time was also spent scratching my head, wondering what the story was. Often I’d come to the conclusion there really wasn’t a story, or at least a story anyone would care much about. However, I’d know my editors were expecting a story no matter what, so I’d have to do my best to identify an issue I could extract a small amount of value from.

Like many reporters in rural areas, I had to rely on meetings for news stories. Otherwise, my articles would just be about how Farmer Joe added two more cows to his herd, or how people still like shopping at Walmart. At meetings, things were supposed to happen. Elected officials were supposed to discuss important issues and vote on important matters.

But imagine this. You just finished a long day of work during which you wrote up the police blotter, whipped up four articles about various topics, and conducted 15-plus interviews (some over the phone, some in person). You are beat, hungry, and sick of dealing with people. (more…)

Reminiscing about reporting

April 7, 2010

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. (more…)

All things in moderation

March 2, 2010

Four years ago I wrote an article for my college newspaper about my decision, and a number of my classmates’ decision, to not use Facebook. Here’s an excerpt:

Facebook users often accumulate a list of more than 100 friends in their profiles, but they may not utter a word to many of these friends when passing them on campus. In my opinion, these long lists of friends weaken the meaning of friendship. The “relationships” are often no more than acquaintances.

Also, when you acquire so many friends, you spread yourself thin. You invest a little bit of time into many different relationships instead of a good deal of time into several relationships.

I ended up joining Facebook a couple of years later. I guess the potential benefit from joining outweighed my reservations. Also, my opinions about social media outlets had become less radical.

Well here I am two years later, and I am sort of inching back in the direction of not using the social networking device. I mean, I have no intention of getting rid of it entirely. I now believe it’s a great way to keep in touch with family and friends all over the world.

But I plan on using it a lot less. I would find myself wasting hours a week on Facebook for no good reason. I would get anxious when I couldn’t use it wondering what I was missing out on. I finally realized that is so silly and unhealthy. So I am pretty much giving it up without getting rid of my account entirely.

I will use it when I need to contact someone, have been contacted by someone, or have another good reason. But that will be about it!

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