A stranger just asked me if being a journalist, I constantly lived in danger. What was she thinking?
She next wanted to know if I knew shorthand, sign language and Morse code. Oh dear. I believe she was thinking about war reporters, though I am not sure if they actually know these. Shorthand (knowledge zero) I can take, but Morse code? My dad, who was in the Navy, taught me SOS. As for sign language, the only kind I understand is what rude people demonstrate to bad drivers.
I have encountered some scary situations while working as a journalist, but I do not lead a dangerous life. I first thought I was in danger while working on an investigative story. We interns knew that we were being followed (had watched too much TV) Dying was ok, but we had to save my precious report. So I barged into the nearest post office and posted it to my editor, considering it my last will and testimony to the world of journalism. My friend, the brave photographer, escaped in the opposite direction. Separating from each other would help at least one of us get the report to the office safely (learned that from Nancy Drew) I dodged humans, stray animals and buildings and reached the office, mud-splattered. My friend was finally stopped by a man who gave her a scolding for dropping her camera flash. He had followed her for three blocks to return it. Till today, I do not know if I was actually being followed. I do not remember dropping my pen. That’s the best I can say.
People make our chosen careers a lot more dazzling than reality. Strangers joke to me about how talking to a journalist might cause them trouble. Some clam up suspiciously while others talk. I like the talkative ones because they always help when I am desperate for a story idea. They kindly save my nails from being chewed to oblivion, when deadlines approach. But their assumptions about my job scare me.
Conversations flow smooth until they ask me for information on anything from stock prices to a Hollywood heartthrob’s current partner. Both are changing so fast, so I really have no clue. Local and international news I can handle, but they ask me for top secret information, even if I have been working from home recently. To them, I am a journalist, flying from one danger zone to the other, snapping up news, so I should know. But I do not.
When I got my first job, someone asked me if my family would be kidnapped, if I angered the government. To this day, thanks partly to the annoying self-censorship practised by media organisations, I have pulled down no governments, my family is safe and no body is complaining.
I blame the movies. They show journalists secretly shooting films, following goons, threatening politicians on the phone, driving huge vehicles across waterfalls and diving across exploding bombs in war fields (with a microphone in hand) But normal journalists cover mundane civic meetings, edit boring press releases, drink lots of coffee and make numerous phone calls begging friends for the contact number of some expert they barely know.
The society has convictions about other professions too. Doctors and lawyers are considered experts in their fields. The illness might be heart-related and the doctor would be a skin specialist, but never mind. It gives doctors a false sense of importance, they joke. Dentists do not get similar queries. Maybe because teeth are uninteresting, conversation-wise. My school teacher friend has been giving educational advice to mothers several years her senior, in parks and other public places. And another friend was surprised to note that the funniest book in my library is, ‘Bless Me, Father’. Nobody obviously thinks that religious leaders or stories about their life can be funny.
No, I don’t re-write press releases anymore. I scrutinise every line around. And then I edit. Magazine covers, cereal boxes, billboards, what people say, what toddlers babble to me. It is so ingrained into my system that I have to stop myself from editing sermons while they are being preached at church. God save all editors – from the wrath of their bosses, the irk of the public and the glares of their friends and family.
I dare not call myself a writer next, instead of a journalist. They will ask me what I am currently writing. Pulitzer-winning stuff of course, if you are interested in reading an old diary filled with baby food recipes, meal plans and potty times from fifteen years ago.
The last entry was pureed peas or something prolific like that.
By Linda Joseph Kavalackal,
Christ & Co.