By the time you read this editorial, I will have made one trip around the sun as Managing Editor of Enterprise Journal.
I have made a lot of memories in this first year here… most of them good.
I have met a lot of people in this first year here… most of them nice.
I have learned a lot of things in this first year here… most of them useful.
One thing that being a journalist in my home community has done is helped to develop my human connection skills in conducting interviews.
For example: “What did it smell like?”
If you’ve ever been the subject of one of my feature articles since I started at the EJ, there’s a good chance I’ve asked you some sort of variance of this question.
Almost always, I’m met with arched eyebrows, a head cocked to the side, a wrinkled nose.
“What did it smell like?” the interviewee always echoes… and then their eyes drift to some point behind me as they think.
And then, all of a sudden, they aren’t being interviewed anymore. They’re no longer sitting in their office or my conference room or wherever we are. They’re in a different place, in a different time. They’re remembering. The smell of something baking that reminds them of home, motor oil burning in the air, coffee fresh brewing in a crowded church lobby.
I learned to ask this question from the brilliant journalist and author of Letters to a Young Journalist, Samuel Freedman, a book that was on my college reading list. I have scolded myself time and time again for only reading just enough of that book to answer homework questions, and not truly giving it the attention it deserved.
Almost a year post-grad, I was a green journalist struggling to connect with my interview subjects. As I stared at the unforgiving cursor on a blank Word document, my eyes wandered to the bookshelf across the room. There Letters to a Young Journalist sat, patiently waiting for me to be ready to hear what Mr. Freedman had to say.
Thanks to the wisdom from this book, I feel that I can now sit at the kitchen table in Jessica Baldus’ tiny metro apartment and watch her make the first cheesecakes that would begin Unc’s Cheesecakes and Taste. I feel that I can be in the passenger seat of Jim Chisholm’s racecar as he crosses the finish line that would grant him the national championship title. I feel I can be on stage with our local schools’ performers, put the uniforms on of our local athletes.
As you will read in this week’s paper, one of these such experiences–interviewing Kari Meyer, a local mother whose son is battling leukemia–is just as rewarding in terms of perspective, but much more difficult to execute. Kari showed some vulnerability in our interview, which, in turn, poses a great responsibility to the writer to do the interview subject justice; I often describe my experience as a journalist writing human interest stories as being a lint roller for emotions. In the moments after she and I hung up the phone, I stared at the framed photo of my son on my desk and shed a few tears of my own. I was not in the the picture when this mother went through what she did–but I paint myself in as best I can to tell her story the way it deserves to be told. And in stories like Kari’s, I can’t lock the mother in me, and the human in me, out of the room to leave the writer in me alone.
Is that a good thing or a bad thing? You can decide.
To everyone who has graciously agreed to be the subject of one of my feature articles: thank you. Thank you for humoring my questions, which may seem bizarre at the time. Thank you for letting me coax details out of you that you’d long thought forgotten. Thank you for letting me into moments that were private and solitary. Thank you for the laughs and tears shared.
Thank you for sharing your stories with me, and thank you for letting me tell them this year. I look forward to telling more in 2021.