“Journalism will kill you, but it will keep you alive while you’re at it.”
They don’t say that about accounting. The quote from American editor Horace Greeley is one of my favorites about journalism because it encapsulates the extent to which reporters dedicate themselves to their job, battle internal and external criticism and stick with it because it is worth it.
Even before being hired on at the Greene County Daily World last June, I knew there would be no such thing as a work-life “balance” for me. I can’t clock out and stop being a reporter, get away from social media, ignore a single text or call or drive past lights and sirens without a second thought. I don’t have the luxury of working on a set schedule or even knowing what to expect for any given day. I never clocked in for a day of work expecting for fireworks to malfunction, families to lose everything they had in a matter of hours, conservation officers to announce a devastating breakthrough in a Silver Alert case or a stormy night to lead to the aftermath of a suspected tornado--yet, we go. Only after we’ve sped to the scene and assessed damage or finished delivering by-the-minute updates to social media and wrapped it all up in a story, can we go home and worry about our own families.
The evening of July 4, 2017, when a firework failed to detonate in the sky during the Freedom Festival fireworks display and exploded beneath a vehicle, I ran over from the movie theatre, where me and my husband were watching the fireworks, to get information while Sabrina--who was already getting ready for bed--could come down. I had trouble falling asleep, and every time I closed my eyes, I saw flashing lights, and someone--their face obscured to me--propped up on a bench outside the Girl Scout Cabin, what looked like blood on their legs, receiving medical attention from Linton Fire Chief Brad Sparks. At the time, I could not be sure how much damage was done and the severity of peoples’ injuries, but I could sense the very real fear of the people around me.
In December, when patrolling conservation officers found a damaged stump in Greene-Sullivan State Forest indicating a vehicle had left the road and plunged into the water, I drove home and asked my husband--who was born and bred Greene County and knew the forest like the back of his hand--to help me find the lake search so I could cover it. Along with so many other officers, I stood on the edge of the lake for hours, shivering, wanting desperately to not find the thing we were searching for. While the search ceased for the night to resume early in the morning, meaning that I never had to see the vehicle, I again had trouble falling asleep and had back-to-back nightmares that I was drowning.
On Tuesday evening, an hour before our newspaper deadline, the Bloomfield Weather Service on Facebook expressed condolences to the residents of Jasonville for a tornado that we had not yet heard about. I called Sabrina, jumped in my car, and by the time I hit Midland I was driving through almost complete darkness. As with the fireworks incident, there was no way of knowing how brutal the storm was, if people were injured or if any lives were lost, or what to expect when I finally got to Jasonville. While the complete darkness was unnerving, I was glad it concealed the full extent of the damage. I used the headlights on my car to help illuminate some damage for a picture, came back and wrote what I knew so far (which was very little), and didn’t go home until an hour after deadline had passed. It was predicted that the tornado, or whatever it was, would come back. When I was able to fall asleep, I dreamed that a tornado hit our house and we lost all our pets. When my husband’s alarm went off, he got out of bed and walked over to the window.
“Whoa,” he said, “Come look at this.”
I jumped out of bed, screaming, and ran to the window. He was just pointing out some pretty clouds. I had expected to see the entire roof of our garage missing.
The only reason I can think of for continuing to put myself through this is that people have to know what’s happening, and someone has to be there--to help emergency services communicate public safety information, dispel rumors and fears and bear witness to the events as independent parties. While it is unpleasant and emotional, it is still part of my job. I am only thankful that I am not in the position of the victims, or of the law enforcement officers, firefighters, EMA personnel and other officials who put themselves directly in harm’s way and see horrible things in the effort of limiting damage and protecting others. I can’t imagine what they saw, on July 4, December 18 and countless other nights when they closed their eyes.