I’ve worked as a television reporter for close to 7 years and covered everything from snowstorms to political races to murders. Over the years, I’ve learned to emotionally detach from people and tragic events and stick to the facts. Anyone who works in a newsroom, hospital or in law enforcement will tell you, objectivity is key to doing their job.
“Just the Facts Ma’am”
When on the scene reporting, I switch into “go mode”. I relate it to an athlete on game day because you block out distractions and focus on the tasks at hand. For reporters, that includes gathering facts, getting compelling interviews and setting up your live shots.
Last month, I reported on the death of a 16 year old. He was shot and killed days before the first day of school. It would have been his junior year. (In this blog, I’ll refer to him as James which is not his real name).
The shooting happened in a low-income neighborhood. Many of the people living there followed the “code of silence” meaning they didn’t want to talk with police and, especially, didn’t want to talk with a news reporter. “You guys only come here to cover bad news in the community,” one person told me.
However, a women who witnessed the shooting talked with me off-camera. She said the incident changed her life. As we walked across the yard where the murder happened, she pointed at the blood stains on the ground and the bullet holes in the front of the house. We went inside and she showed me where the bullets went through the wall into the living room. Below the holes were 2 year old twins sitting on the couch. As their mom described the shooting , I couldn’t help but think, kids should never be exposed to this type of thing.
The woman’s friend asked “Do you like your job?”. “I love my job,” I said with an emphasis on the word LOVE. “But not on days like this.”
“Close to home”
I went on to tell her about my brother, Beanie, who passed away at the age of 27. Beanie was not murdered, his death was an accident. However, covering the death of a young black man made me think of Beanie’s life being cut short. Those who knew him would tell you Beanie was a great guy which is the same way James’s brother described him.
I also mentioned the twins I saw sitting on the couch. They reminded me of the twins my relative is fostering. I didn’t say it, but I wondered if this was the life those kids would be living if they were not with my family members.
After a couple of days of reporting about the murdered 16 year old, I went to the track to run and relieve stress. I warmed up, did some speed work and prepared for cool down laps. That’s when it hit. I started crying, uncontrollably. No one was around as I walked around the track, tears flowing. The past several days sunk in. I empathized with the grieving family. I also prayed that there would be a better life ahead for the twins who were innocently sitting below the bullet holes in the wall .
Don’t Quit Your Day Job
After breaking down on the track, I called my dad and sister to tell them what happened. They provided encouraging words to cheer me up. They also reminded me, there will be some challenging and heartbreaking days in this profession but it’s what I signed up for because I’m passionate about this line of work.
I can’t remember the last time I cried, it seems like years ago. Looking back, it felt good to release those pent-up emotions. It also helped me to become more compassionate towards others. I stopped looking at people as characters in my story and instead I saw them as humans.