Over the past three weeks, we have covered some of the most horrific stories possible. Officers gunned down and right before Christmas, a mother beheaded by her own son, a beautiful 5-year-old girl tossed over a bridge by her father, just to name a few. And those really are just a few. There were so many more. So many. I can’t even.
I can’t even.
As a newsperson, I would be lying if I said the news content didn’t affect me.
As I cover trials and hear horrific details of crimes that have occurred, it’s difficult to rise above, remove yourself, and just report. I do it, because I have to, like each and every single person in the newsroom has to, but I would also be lying if I said I didn’t occasionally break down in the car on the drive home, brokenhearted, like I did yesterday.
I also have a hard time calling what we cover “stories,” because in actuality, though what we cover is someone’s story, it must never be forgotten that these are actual life events and tragedies that happened to someone. And they affect so many people. They are something that actually happened to someone, and not (as I sometimes wish) just a fictional tale. Trust me. These facts do not escape me.
I learned through covering September 11th from New York that I am actually physically capable of rising up and outside of my emotional body to cover news as if it is not happening to me personally, though as we were hunkered down in a basement writing and sharing video as it came in while planes were still missing and there was no way of knowing what would happen next, the underlying fear was always present. I can work through fear.
It wouldn’t be until maybe a month later, when a group of us finally were able to break away from the constant coverage to have a beer only to find ourselves all crying at the bar, dudes included, that the momentousness of what the hell just happened sunk in.
I have learned that I can work outside my body. I can work on no sleep. I can work in a truck in the middle of a hurricane as it lifts and it shakes and feels like it is going to float away at any second.
I took some time off from the news business to have babies and spend time with them at home, raising them and seeing all their “firsts,” not knowing if I would ever return to work. But I have and not because it is not a job, but because it is a calling. It is a profession that chose me at a very young age, and not the other way around. And I am glad I have returned. As much as I loved being home, I have always felt the pull of the newsroom calling me back. I am doing what I am passionate about. I cannot explain it. I am where I am supposed to be. But as it turns out, (sigh) my kids made me soft, man.
As a mother, I see things differently. I am changed.
And that’s not such a terrible thing, really. I have always been an emotional person and I have always reported on a story as a human being, and not a person who clinically and selfishly wanted “the scoop,” but as a conveyor of information. A digger and seeker of truth. People who believe the horrible “media sucks” may not believe that this actually exists and that it is actually the goal of (most) people in the news to report actual facts. I get that. I know the “mainstream media” is not popular.
And yes I am competitive, but above all, I choose “right” over “first,” I believe whole heartedly in the moral code, the ethics of good journalism, and I am proud to say that the professionals I work with feel the same. I would not be there if they didn’t. They have actually changed lives through their reporting. If a reporter at our station gets an “exclusive,” it is not because they have hounded someone, it is because they have earned someone’s trust. They have been allowed inside to help tell their story. The story of what has happened to them.
These events affect them too. I know this because I have seen with my own eyes the faces of the reporters who came through the newsroom yesterday. No one who covered that story, read that story, wrote about that story, or witnessed it happening for themselves was not affected.
Since returning to news, it is the horrific stories we cover about children that have the biggest impact on me. I cannot explain why except to say that it feels as if it has happened to me or my child. And I feel sick.
I know first-hand, through my own experiences with my own children, the innocence of children. Their beautiful faces and eyes filled with wonder and excitement over the simplest of things. The ridiculous things that they say.
And then when these terrible things happen I can picture their horrified tiny faces as they are enduring the unthinkable and it breaks me. It completely destroys me inside. And it makes me sick.
I cannot fathom some of the things that happen in this world and I cannot, for the life of me, ever fathom the WHY.
WHY DO THESE THINGS HAPPEN. Sometimes random, often not. And I am not sure which is worse.
I, like so many of us, may be at work doing a job when I am there, but at some point I have to leave and make it to my car, where I return to my body and pray, sometimes with tears flowing down my cheeks, and drive the long drive home, grieving for the people in our stories, that they may find peace in what they have endured or must continue to endure. What I feel for them is nothing compared to what they themselves must feel or what those who have responded as first responders must feel, and so then the guilt sets in that this is not about me and it is so much worse for them, and so I allow that whole process to occur on the drive home.
And so then I pull into my driveway and sometimes I even turn the lights off and sit there for a while until I can dry myself up, pull it all together, and go inside and put on my happy mom hat and do homework-time and dinner-time and bedtimes and reading-times, as if nothing ever happened and it was a normal happy day.
I know it is hard to believe, but not all of us horrible media people are selfish unfeeling news mongers out to get a story. We are mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers, all human, with hearts that are also broken with the stories we cover. Even though we do not (and cannot) show it.
And some days, we go home and we hug a little harder than others, and we keep hugging, until our children, who are saying, “mommy I can’t breathe you are squeezing me too hard” beg us to let them go.