May 18, 2012

In my first round with journalism as an old school reporter, I HATED hard news. This was back in the early ’80s and ’90s. Running out there to cover the scene of whatever, chasing tough issues — no thank you. But guess what I do now as a reporter in the digital age. Yes.

If I sound less than perky about this positive development, it’s because I just finished a day of tracking the suicide of Mary Richardson Kennedy,  estranged wife of Robert Kennedy Jr. She had been struggling with substance abuse and custody issues related to their four kids. The headline: she hung hanged herself in the barn behind the family house that she had finished renovating right before her husband filed for divorce.

Working on this complex, sad tale was all about finding people to interview and verifying even the most basic facts. Here’s the link to our Newsday for Westchester story about Mary Kennedy’s death. (If you read it and think it has merit, please rate it, “like” it and/or leave a comment.)

Our website barely launched two weeks ago and this is my third horrible death. Before this, I was immersed in the details of a fatal home fire that killed a couple and two of their children — only the 20-year-old son was spared because his father helped him out of the house. Before that, there was the 16-year-old resident of a special needs treatment facility who died of a heart attack after an altercation with staffers.

Of course, each of these stories also has me attending and reporting from the funerals. My work also includes writing about Indian Point, the single most controversial nuclear power plant in the country because both New York’s governor and environmentalists want it shut down. In between are all kinds of unexpected current events that demand attention.

As I wander through these various reportorial landscapes, I’ve realized that the old me defined “hard news” as any story that could result in professional failure. After all, there’s nothing more scary for a journalist than getting stuff wrong, not getting gathering enough material or missing the real point. In decades past, I dreaded the responsibility that came with really being out there. Instead, I retreated to my favorite story genre — thoughtful reflections with an offbeat twist.

But my job is giving me a chance to settle some unfinished business with journalism. Lately, I’ve been feeling very complete and in the moment as I absorb both the yin and the yang:

Instead of hugging the sidelines, I’m opening my arms to the frontline.

Exhaling and simply diving into an assignment has as much merit as endless planning.  

Even though chasing news can wreak havoc on my schedule, preserving my personal daily routine (eg, making time to exercise, doing my affirmations, walking the dog) keeps me grounded in a good way.  

And here’s the most essential attitude change in helping me confidently find my edge…

The reporting process has always frustrated the hell out of me because only a sliver of the information that I collect makes it into the actual story. No matter what you do as a reporter, artist, teacher, parent or business person, I’m sure you can relate because in the end, we’re all storytellers.

But I have gone zen. How to I see my job now? It’s to step into the world, lasso a bunch of facts, hold them carefully in my hand for a little while  — before letting most of these jewels slip through my fingers and back into the sand.

We can only do so much.

Then, it’s time to let go, move on.

And that’s the truth.