The Reporter Chronicles
The Reporter Chronicles. Volume 1
It’s the start of another work shift, and you’ve already got about a hundred things to do. But isn’t that just the way it seems to go? The unrelenting pressure starts to seem normal after a while, to the point you just don’t notice it. It’s kind of like when you go deep sea diving and you slowly get used to all the water pressure bearing down on you, or something like that. But for those first few minutes at your desk, you try to take a breath and just gather your bearings. Disaster can at least wait for a fresh cup of coffee.
But then, typically sooner than you’d expect, it comes. That first phone call or call on the police scanner, that first little line on traffic logs, those first few photos frantically snapped and posted by bystanders that indicates something’s going on. And your brain snaps to attention like a rubber band. You can’t tell how or why, but you know. You just know. And if you don’t get your ass up and get out there, you’ll miss all the action, so get your ass up and don’t miss the action. You’ve got a job to do.
Before you know it, you’re rushing to the scene of the latest calamity. Your head is clear and your mind is buzzing. What happened? Adrenaline surges through your veins and propels you to get to the bottom of it. And in those moments, as you rush to find out and convey what happened, you’re struck by the realization that, at that very moment, you’re right where you’re need to be, because this is what you were born to do.
Sounds almost like a movie, right? That’s the pull journalism gets over us wordsmiths, us fact fanatics and data nerds that guard over the gates of truth and information. Dramatic much? Well, what do you expect, we are storytellers — it’s in our blood. And journalism? It just takes the craft to a different level.
I just can’t deny that rush I got whenever something was breaking and I had to speed on over there and see what was going on and get a story. That wasn’t always easy. I can’t count the number of times I spent hours standing along a dark roadside or walking around taped-off crime scenes just trying to get a couple of details — any details — from the cops on what happened. I covered everything criminal and public safety-related you could think of — murders, fires, robberies, storms, crashes, high-speed chases, standoffs, a surprising number of naked people out blocking traffic — most of the time just trying to convey with accuracy what the hell was going on. After some time, I started covering city politics, an entirely different animal that still brought with it the same triumphs and failures as my regular crime beat. My work was often unpredictable, repetitive, chaotic, tedious, exhilarating, terrible, tragic, beautiful, horrible, life-changing, barely noticeable, but interesting. Always, always interesting.
I mean, what else can you say about a job where you can go from an active robbery scene to a search for mountain lion tracks behind a suburban neighborhood all in the same morning? Or ride along with K9 teams, firefighters, and even some elected officials, just to see what their typical day-to-day is like. Where you could come across iguanas at crash scenes and the word “fire” means you runs towards it, not away from it, and you better get there as fast as you can before it’s over because then what was the point? Where city council meetings dragged on over hours but you watched every minute, riveted by the intrigue, mechanics and personalities of local government. Where the things you wrote about and the people you talked to for your stories could sometimes be instrumental in shaping the corner of the world around them. No pressure, you know, but get it done. We’ve got a story to get out there.
Or that buzz you get from getting that call you know is finally going to make your story. The high of getting a scoop, of knowing you’ve got something no one else has, then rushing to put it out there before anyone else does. How you can jump around from information officers to social media to people calling in with random tips on the phones or all of it at the same time as you do your best to collect and confirm information and get your story out there. The kick you get when the thought hits you that writing, one of your great loves, is the way you make your living. Where court cases and police searches could be filled with more dark twists and turns than the latest episode of Riverdale, and it’s your job to make sense of it and make sure your audience can make sense of it— then all of a sudden the national news got a hold of it and it was everywhere. And you sit there and watch it and can’t help but think “I was there. That’s my story too. I had a hand in this.” It’s a pride quite like no other. It’s a rush that’s probably hard for anyone who hasn’t really been around it to know what it’s like. Then again, maybe they do: they’re all our audience, after all.
It’s a rush that leaves you absolutely exhausted from using all your wits and capabilities to find out as much about what happened and why, and convey it to the world in a way that’s easy to understand, because that’s your mission and you can’t fail. Plus, no matter how much you rail against the long hours and shitty work, you can’t help it: you fucking love it, more than any other job you’ve ever done. Maybe any other job you’ll ever do.
It can be grueling. It can be shit. But when you’re right in that rush, it just feels amazing. And all you can think about is how to keep on doing it.
These chronicles were written on an iPhone 7 by an ex-reporter in the summer of 2019.