7am: The call comes in. While my family and the rest of the innocents
in this town sleep, I grab a pencil and jot down the where and when.
The who, what and why will have to wait until my relentless and
finely honed investigative skills flush them out. Into my Sportsac
I toss my reporter's notebook and five Bic ballpoints, having learned
the hard way that news won't wait for a hack without a back-up pen.
By 8am, I've hit the streets. It's quiet
a little too quiet. I plant myself on a bench near the park
gazebo and wait. The lens cap is off my camera - another hard lesson
learned after several rolls of wasted film - and my five pens are
Finally, at 9:30am, all hell breaks loose.
In a frantic scrawl decipherable only by me, I get it all down
the crowds, the noise, the confusion, the barking. By noon, I've
pounded out the copy and captioned my photos. And with the next
edition of the Harrison Herald, my byline will be printed proudly
in glorious black and white, just below my latest hard-hitting headline:
"Harrison Pet Parade a Success Again!"
Welcome to the world of the local reporter.
For the past six months, my weekends have all been like this
early morning shlepping to one feel-good festival after another.
Interviews with bake sale organizers and boy scout troops. The hours
for this job are long and inconvenient, but it's exciting, demanding
and creatively fulfilling work, and it's making me rich.
Actually, it's boring, demanding and
creatively unfulfilling but, at ten cents a word, who could walk
Okay, so anyone could walk away from
an hourly wage that's been considered unacceptable since the late
18th century. The real dilemma is: What aspiring writer
could walk away from the chance to see their name in print? Not
this one. To me, happiness is found not in losing ten pounds or
winning the lottery or world peace. Happiness, for this late-blooming
Lois Lane, is a BYLINE. A byline read by about 147 people but a
byline, nonetheless. My readers grab me in the produce section of
the Stop-n-Shop and tell me they enjoyed my story on the Senior
Art show or that pesky sewer line break. I smile and thank them
and insist that, "it's just a little something I do in my spare
time," while my inner voice hisses, "Eat your heart out, Christiane
Amanpour!" My running around town with a notebook and a cheap Nikon
completely mortifies my daughters. So add the perverse pleasure
of embarrassing my children to the list of press perks.
I tell myself that I'm doing more
than taking a mid-life, low-mileage ego trip; that small-town journalists
fill a noble role in society. After all, they find the news that's
fit to print; they uncover the truth, rooting out injustice and
exposing the dark underbelly hidden beneath the deceptively calm
surface of suburban life. In this town, the dark underbelly role
is usually filled by a gardener ignoring the latest leaf-blower
restrictions or some drunken teenagers trashing the local golf course
on a Friday night. It can get ugly, especially if one of the kegger
kids turns out to be the son of the PTA president or a local minister.
Still, a reporter must venture where the average citizen fears to
News is where you make it for the
local reporter. And I do find room for a certain level of creativity
in my journalistic endeavors. I do this by lying. Well, not by lying,
really; it's more like intuiting inevitable truths rather than technically,
physically observing them.
So, say the Dixie Dandies start their
free concert in the park at 5pm, promising to play until it gets
too dark to read their sheet music. I don't know about you, but
I'd rather chew off my own hand then sit through three hours of
"My Gal Sal." Therefore, I take a few pictures and grab a few quotes,
then retire to the local Mexican joint where my reporter's notebook
practically fills itself with Dan Rather-like musings on the nostalgic
journey taken by the Dandies' multi-generational audience as the
sun set brilliantly behind them. Hell, no physically present reporter
could have written a more glowing review.
It is a comfort to know that I'm following
in the footsteps of many famous writers: Anna Quindlen, James Michener,
even Papa Hemingway, himself; they all started out as journalists.
And every one of them went on to write novels, so you can't tell
me that flexing the old creative muscle isn't a time honored journalistic
tradition. In fact, I suspect that the news media deserves credit
for some of the most moving fiction I've ever read.
Hemingway got sent to cover the Spanish-American
War. I get sent to cover the Nature Center's Annual Ice Cream Social.
Maybe, if I'm lucky, a food fight will break out.