April O’Neal, Who Hurt You?

I have a confession to make. I was never a very good reporter.

Though I majored in print journalism and worked as a television journalist / field reporter / producer for several years, I never had what you might call that “Lois Lane tenacity,” that impulse to doggedly pursue a story with little or no regard for my own comfort or safety. I’ve never really seen the need to stand in a hurricane, camp outside a hospital/prison, or fling myself into a river just to prove a point. But that’s me.

During my college career, I watched my fellow journalism students graduate from bright-eyed idealism to manic ambition, and finally, to jaded skepticism. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t experience the same. After all, it’s all well and good to watch a lot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles growing up, to tell yourself that one day, you will also drive a big van full of mutated crime fighters while chasing down the Story of the Decade and rocking an awesome, banana yellow bodysuit. Or whatever. But “chasing down” the story in real life is another thing entirely.

For one thing, it involves a great deal of sitting in a station, reviewing tapes and editing hours of boring “b roll” footage, which is the visual equivalent of white noise. Interviews are rarely shouted from the front steps of a courtroom while holding a portable mic. Instead, you get to spend oodles of time trudging around municipal office buildings, looking for someone bored or desperate enough to talk to you. (Because most people–believe it or not–have a phobia of watching themselves on TV or seeing their names in print).

If you’re very lucky, something newsworthy might go down at an amusement park, in which case you’ll have a somewhat entertaining backdrop in front of which to stand when you’re delivering your surprisingly dry take on things. But before you can even get to that point, you’ve already spent so many hours on the phone and Interwebs tracking down sources, compiling background notes, etc. that you’re pretty much sick to death of the subject anyway.

Personally, if there was a choice between in-person interviews and research, I’d rather read all about it.* But that’s why I’m a gigantic nerd. I love meeting new people [who have no interest in meeting or talking to me] in the same way I love really lame Syfy movies. I’ll enjoy them if they’re thrust upon me, but I won’t go out of my way to put myself in that position.** Not unless there’s a really good reason, like, say… they’re the perpetrators of an ongoing bank holdup, and I’m the only person who can really “get” them.***

*Disclaimer: This phobia of forcing people to talk to me seems to only extend to television reporting thus far. When it comes to giving out advice to cruise ship passengers or talking to people about my book projects, it’s more of a mild inner squeamishness, which I’m happy to squelch. Also, I love that word, squelch.

**Addendum: My husband would like it noted that to the abstract observer, I am in no way shy or reserved. There may have been several occasions with strangers in the grocery store checkout line or elderly people on planes which he could use as anecdotal evidence for his argument. Whatever.

***Proviso: Yes, I realize this statement violates the aforementioned “not wanting to get killed in the line of duty” statement. But you have to admit, getting caught in the crossfire of a Jason Statham movie style bank heist would be a pretty awesome way to go.

Anyway, the point I guess I’m trying [and failing] to make here is that WANTING to annoy people for a living, to get all up in their personal “bizness,” isn’t natural. Or healthy. Yes, sometimes a closer look is necessary. Yes, there are times when private things are actually newsworthy.

But as for me, I prefer to make people up before I exploit their lives for a story.

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