Philosophy of Journalism: Beginning as a Small-Community Journalist
In my introductory article, I made reference to my two projects, Things Relevant, and an opportunity I’d been given to start a journalism career. In this piece, I’d like to recount my experience so far with the latter — the journalism career.
I grew up in a smallish town, Saugerties, New York, of which roughly 20,000 people live. Saugerties is latitudinally sandwiched between the Hudson River and the Catskill Mountains, longitudinally between Albany and Poughkeepsie, 90 minutes north of New York City. I was born in the 1980’s. My father’s side of the family had lived in that area since before the Revolutionary War.
I published my first newspaper when I was in 4th grade — “The Daily Gossip.” In high school I wrote articles for the school newspaper, and won the outstanding reporter award for the class. Frankly, there was no competition. In college, I was a journalism major for some time, but I backed out of it. I would often dream up a plausible but extravagant story to pursue and then just think of reasons not carry through with the all-important interviews and psych myself out. I resented needing quotations. I eventually dropped out having not really found my way, roaming for years before returning, finishing, and reattaining my love for reading, writing, and reporting.
I’m something of an Aspy with curiosities. I’m 36 now, and still susceptible to the those quotation-seeking anxieties ordinarily associated with introversion. I’ve certainly made strides. I was diagnosed with ADHD, and started taking Adderall, which certainly improved my concentration, and with that, my confidence. I begrudgingly became a waiter, which, in retrospect, was fun and built surety by way of accumulating conversations and realizing how little people care, or how forgetful they are should they care. And, of course, there’s the gradual appreciation for the shortness and unpredictability of life.
Not long ago, I pitched a series of profiles to the publisher of a batch of newspapers where I grew up. He was very interested in what I had to say, and wanted to meet me for lunch the next day. We talked, and he encouraged the writing the political profiles.
Something came up a few days later, and the publisher introduced me to one of the editors, who had asked me to write an article for the Saugerties edition. From there, it snowballed. I found out that my town’s edition had reassigned its editor to focus on the website. The publisher and this editor didn’t seem to communicate. I always had a hard time getting a response.
However, I kept working on stories, slowly, and I kept pestering. The editor that had asked me to write the original article finally answered my other questions, and directed me to pitch more to the other editors. After writing another piece, I was called into the office. I haven’t quite figured out the reasoning behind being called for the meeting, but, it appears that they’d like to put me on the track to editing that edition. It was mentioned that having someone that grew up in Saugerties is a very valuable resource that they are currently without.
If this is what happens, it will provide the setting for some interesting case studies in journalism. In the two articles I’ve written, I’ve plodded along awkwardly. My first story was a remembrance for someone that had just passed away, somewhat surprisingly. I had to interview people on the first business day after his death. Those that weren’t crying were suggesting, only half-jokingly, that I “do a story” about their business.
In a small town, everything becomes a political machination. Everything is a favor for a favor. One editor told me he had people yell at him in the grocery store. I anticipate some hate-mail and threats. Although journalists do generally get paid, it’s not well, and if they are adhering to an ecumenical journalistic code, then small-community truth-telling becomes something usually not serving their best interests. It can be a volatile and uncomfortable way to eek out dinner. And I have already been placed in the situation in having to go off the record and withhold something in order to get more information. If a retelling were famed in a certain way, some journalists would disagree with me. If I’d heard about it occurring at higher levels, I wouldn’t be happy.
The subsequent articles will be specific case studies addressing the nagging negotiations of these small conflicts. I will look at them through the lens of the articles I produce for the newspaper. I was told, at that meeting I’d attended, that I must be cognizant that journalists are the first draft of history. So, I’m doing that, but with the anticipation that historians will look back and deduce that this was a critical point for journalism…a time when they could only be saved by opening up to total transparency. Hopefully, this will encourage others to be forthright in their published material, and more honest with themselves.