What It Means to be a Journalist

The job that intrigues people the most about me is that I was journalist. They think it sounds glamorous, maybe gutsy. When I try to explain the world of it, I am thrown back into a fascinating whirlwind of stories - other people's stories. To be a really good journalist is to be able to morph yourself into someone else's world and mind long enough to tell their story.

Here's how it started: I was a child who got put in the Blue Birds group for reading comprehension. The Blue Birds were the strongest readers and writers. When other children would struggle with a word, I'd get so frustrated that I'd want to get up and read it for them. I could remember how to spell a word just by seeing it once. My brain didn't work like that in other areas, but words landed in my mind like photographic images.

I would write prolifically as a child, spending hours I couldn't recall later roped into the world of the word. Something happens to a writer's brain during the writing process: Time stops and you lose all sense of self. Words actually appear on the page before your brain fully processes them. Literally, I would stand up a few times and wonder, How did that get there? I didn't write that.

While other students struggled trying to figure out their major in college, I knew that I would be a journalist. I didn't know it isn't always a lucrative career, and it's one of the one's most susceptible to economic collapses. I once read that passion doesn't make sense. You follow it because there's no other choice.

The dichotomy of me is that I'm by nature a very introverted and shy person. Once I got into a journalism job, I learned fast that I'd have to fight that in order to pull information from people. I also learned journalists have terrible reputations: People just inherently don't trust them. People would test me with "off the record" and "on the record." If they later saw anything that was "off the record" in print, they wouldn't talk to me. This never happened, because I never burned them. Yet I knew I was getting tested for my integrity.

When I got to New York City, I became a financial journalist. My manager told me my first day, "Call traders. You're going to sink or swim." It was one of the scariest tasks as a early twenty-something, but I swam.

Here's what worked: I got straight to the point; I listened; I used my soft, feminine voice to entice them to call back (that's as far as I'll go with playing the "girl card"). I also learned about people very fast: Some of the most outwardly friendly traders were the scammers, and the most bristly trader ended up being the most honest. Journalism is a strange dance of psychology: You're reading them, and they're reading you.

I left journalism when September 11, 2001 hit. Many of the young journalists voluntarily walked away. Why? Because in the midst of tremendous grief, we were asked to call people and pull a story. Here's where I'm not a hardcore journalist: When someone is hurting, I don't want to intrude and ask them how much it hurts so I can get marketable copy.

I remember us sitting in a divey bar shortly before we all left. Prince's Purple Rain was playing in the background. Our futures were unmapped, but we were young with the mystery of time on our side. In the years following, I went back into journalism, then I tried a series of office jobs that were boring but provided the false sense of security journalism never does.

The reality is, I am still a journalist. It's in my blood. No job compares to telling the truth of our world.

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