Thursday, January 11, 2007

Reporter No More


I'm developing a following with my weekly columns in the local paper and someone asked me if I was planning to go back to reporting. I said it was a negative business and I wanted to get out. Over the 7 years of running a small-town weekly paper, I had to learn and know things that I normally would never have wanted to know, the dirtiness, dishonesty, things about peoples’ lives, government sausage making. Ick.

I was so looking forward to my last day of work, August 9, 2006. The company that had bought my paper had already closed the Gray office and I had been commuting 10 miles to to my new office, shared with the editor of one of the other papers they own. I was not fond of the commute, parts of it were dangerous. It was early, 5:30 a.m., so I could get packing.

I came upon a crash scene. Officials were diverting traffic, which a normal person would be happy to go around but I was a reporter, if for 8 more hours. I told the Officer that I was a journalist and I needed to get some shots. He waved me ahead and told me to stay 200 feet away from the workers. “It’s a bad one,” he said.

Two television channels were already shooting video. I had to jockey for position. At 4:30 a.m. conditions had been foggy, the tv guys told me, and an 18 year old girl had been zooming to work. She lost control of her small car, it skidded and flew and flipped then wrapped around a tree 100 feet into the woods. She was thrown from the vehicle and killed instantly. Rescue had a very hard time extracting the car and a very hard time extracting her from the woods.

We stood around for an hour, the tv guys and me, waiting for the shots we knew we had to get. The white sheeted body being pulled from the trees, stretcher being loaded into the ambulance, close ups of the wreckage. The car was so shattered there was nothing for the tow truck to hook onto and it took a long time. It was boring so when it got close to when things emerged from the woods, we couldn’t help but get excited. We scuttled forward, trying to get the money shot. Ick.

The whole time I kept thinking about the morning's quietude, how the girl was probably singing and driving and planning about her day. And how suddenly her life was gone, and all that was left was a crushed car and three media journalists trying to get a shot that would represent her last moments by a bloody sheet and a hanging fender. My final shot was of long strands of grass hanging off the inside mangled wheel well as it was slowly winched on the truck bed. I left then.

When I got to the office the other editor had heard the scanner and was about to send someone out. I told him I got the whole thing already, including shots and quotes. He's ghoulish and kind of likes car crashes. He likes them better if someone dies. He jumped up and pumped his hand in the air. “Yes! That’s great!” He looked at me sideways, and asked “Do you want to call the family?” We had to get a quote from them. I looked hard at the guy and I said “I’ve gone 7 years without having to make the call to a grieving family and I really don’t want to go out with one on my last day.”

Things like this affected me too much, but equally I was afraid of the day that they wouldn’t affect me, that I’d become like that other editor and it was just another day at the office.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yeah I know what you mean. When I was stringing for the Sun, the scanner announced a fire in another part of the city. People had to jump from windows. The injured were on tarps in the middle of the street. Police had cordoned off the road but the press pass got us through. I remember being so excited. It was my first real fire story since college. It was grizzly but my reaction to it still shocks me more.
-Chuck

Elizabeth Prata said...

I love you Chuck, you're a stand-up guy. Hey, remember the inside our office reaction to an incident thathappened in another town when a fifth grader came to school as a bag of leaves and got set on fire?

Anonymous said...

It wasnt a bag of leaves- was it? I thought it was a guy who came dressed as a cotton ball. Or am I thinking of yet another Halloween tragedy.

Elizabeth Prata said...

I remember the bag of leaves, I thought the costume was cute. Cotton likely was a different tragedy...

Louie B said...

But we miss you here. Politically, things are in reverse and The Monument is no longer the watchdog.

Elizabeth Prata said...

Hi louie b: thanks. There are some things about it that I miss, and seeing you and others get energized and interested is one of them. But with any new ownership comes new direction. I am sorry to hear that things are in reverse. It's never more true that when the cat's away... Good newspapers are so necessary in order to have a democracy with muscle.

Anonymous said...

Yeah - Darwin Awards are often given out simply for a poorly thought out Halloween Costume.
-Chuck

Anonymous said...

Things are definitely NOT the same in Gray since you left, Elizabeth. The Monument editors are NOT as thorough nor aggressive; and the paper 'just isn't the same'!! Now that The Gray Independent News and the New Gloucester Independent News will 'become one' with next Friday's issue..a whole new format and name will be introduced there as well. Can't wait to see how the Council handles 'Spot Zoning' for a new Hannaford at the end of the Bypass...Dick Cahil says it's Legal; and that there has been so many requests for New Business!! {Bet if you 'called him on this' it would be like before...a Lie} The Council also wants to classify parts of Gray as 'City Dump' so they can qualify for Community Development Block Grant Funds??? They are supposed to review & act on these issues Tuesday night.