When I was a reporter in The Tennessean’s Williamson County office, one of the things I could count on was a daily phone call from a cranky but hilarious school board member who absolutely loved to gossip about his fellow board members and make outlandishly inflammatory accusations of school administrators.
These calls were frequently conducted from his bathtub and often he’d be smoking at the same time. I know this because I could hear the splashing and exhaling. Also, because I asked him. If a man is naked when he calls, it’s best to know it up front.
Anyway, this guy is on a long list of characters I’ve been graced to know because of what I do for a living.
Others worth a mention:
A group of teenagers in Murfreesboro who staged drag shows and gay rights marches in the years surrounding Matthew Shepherd’s murder in Colorado.
The forensics professor at the University of Tennessee whose anthropology research into the decay of human remains inspired Patricia Cornwell’s novel, “The Body Farm”.
The parents in Burns, Tennessee, who are raising two sons who likely won’t survive through their early 20s because of a rare, particularly aggressive form of muscular dystrophy.
The man from Fairview who struggled with morbid obesity when he worked as a hospital nurse, then became a celebrity pastry chef after gastric bypass surgery helped him lose the weight.
The private school moms whose book clubs chose “Shades of Gray” but couldn’t say much about s-e-x when I called because their kids were in the car on the way to Vacation Bible School.
The society matriarch who married her late husband’s groundskeeper.
And the prosecutor who sought obscenity charges against an adult bookstore in Bucksnort, just off I-40, because – as he argued – this isn’t Nashville.
(And those are just people I have interviewed. I will NEVER have enough time to list all the … interesting … people I have worked with.)
I’m thinking about all of them this week because of a blog post written by a woman in her 20s whose wistful “Why I Left News” musings have been making the rounds in my Facebook feed. She talked about how she misses seeing her byline in the paper, but doesn’t miss the paper’s intrusions in her personal life.
“People came to demand CNN’s 24-hour news format from every news outlet, including local newspapers,” wrote Allyson Bird in a blog post that has since gone viral. She continued: “And the news outlets nodded their heads in response, scrambling into action without offering anything to the employees who were now expected to check their emails after hours and to stay connected with readers through social media in between stories.”
I understand. I really do. And I’d be lying if I said I was still as blindingly enamored with my career as I was when I began it, having – in the last few years – watched my daughter became a tween; picked up time consuming hobbies like gardening, running and cycling; gone back to church; started a blog; nurtured friendships with people I’d walk through fire for; traveled across the world; gotten divorced; and fallen in love.
There is more to life than what one does for a living, and “The News” can often feel more like a lifestyle than the rest of your life does.
BUT, I have to say…
So can owning your own business, being an artist, running for office, law enforcement and education. For that matter, so can any profession that has as much to do with passion, leadership and / or public service as it does with earning a paycheck and / or supporting a family.
I’m reminded of those earliest hours when the floods raged in May of 2010. The shoppers at my Publix – my neighbors – cried to strangers in the aisles because they didn’t have flood insurance. Several of my daughter’s classmates were evacuated from their homes in boats. One of their houses caught fire and exploded when electrical wiring in the garage shorted out in the water. And that was just my subdivision. You all know it was much, MUCH worse in other parts of the city where people lost their very lives.
I know because the first thing I did was post a flood map online, and the second thing I did was drive to the office while every reporter and photographer at the paper was transmitting horrifying digital updates from every corner of Middle Tennessee. What I remember most from those days is our overwhelming need to share information. For my colleagues and me, the news WAS our life, and our life was the news.
And that is why – even after several rounds of layoffs, furloughs, early retirements and restructuring (many of which altered or ended the careers of some truly talented and dedicated people) – I still feel lucky and happy to be doing what I do.
It is a strange and wonderful privilege to meet a community’s most colorful characters. It is a deep honor – dare I say a life’s calling – to share their stories.