Words are my livelihood, yet they’ve failed me as I wrestled with this column.
I know what I want to say, but I’m not sure how to say it.
After working through an article that talked with local “survivors” of Monday’s Boston Marathon bombings, I had mixed feelings about my task as a journalist.
I’ve had colleagues and readers tell me that my account of local residents Mick and Pam Petersen’s experience (and the report that a large Davis contingent of runners was safe) was good work.
Reading it back, from the standpoint of a craftsman, I’m proud of it.
However, personally I remain conflicted. Reporting, as I do, about people in our community, which I’ve been a part of for nearly 35 years, often is a challenge, and all too frequently a sorrow.
Fortunately, on Monday, the friends and acquaintances I was searching for all had happy-ending stories — albeit harrowing ones — to tell.
But such isn’t always the case. And in community journalism, practiced with an aplomb at this newspaper that few other publications can match, we as reporters are invested more than meets the eye.
I have reported on firings and arrests of people with whom I have worked or grown up. I have written about the deaths of longtime friends of mine and my children.
More often than not, when a tragedy strikes — like last weekend’s murders of a South Davis couple — it hits too close to home, given the lengthy service records of our staff members. (In this case, the crime occurred next door to longtime family friends and two doors down from where my son and his girlfriend live.)
Doing our jobs on behalf of our readers can be a double-edged responsibility; we often have to put our own psyches on hold.
I chatted with Lauren Keene, The Enterprise’s longtime courts and emergency service reporter, about how she deals with a world that I visit only occasionally from my normally good-news perch in sports (often called the toy department of newspapers).
Our conversation bucked me up, and made me even prouder of my colleagues.
“More often than not, I’ve found that while I may be dealing with people during the worst moments of their lives … at the same time they want to tell their loved ones’ stories and make sure they are remembered for how they lived, not how they died,” Keene told me.
“That’s what I try to remember each time I reach out to survivors, but if they are at all hesitant, I make every effort to be respectful and keep my distance.
“I think people appreciate that, and I’ve had many people open up to me after having some time to sort through their feelings.”
Owners, editors, writers, production and advertising staff, carriers — we all live here. We are all impacted by every event we bring to you. Sometimes those stories are painful and remind us as writers of our own mortality.
Over my 40-plus years as a “small-town” journalist, I’ve been on several assignments in which the tragedy was startlingly close.
So has Keene …
“I would say I am most conflicted when dealing with tragedies involving children, having two of my own,” she said. “At the same time, being a parent gives me a strong connection to the people I interview in these situations … and that enables me to offer them a great deal of empathy and understanding.”
But the dichotomy remains.
As a craftsman, I looked at what I had written about the Davis folks in Boston as a good piece of journalism. As a person who knew many of those people, Monday started out with apprehension and it could have ended in tragedy, but for the grace of God.
I am glad I don’t have the ongoing task that has become Keene’s in now working through the details of the murders of people I only knew from afar and that many of you knew and loved.
Keene told me about another professional experience of hers that spotlights what we deal with and try to handle with compassion from time to time.
“The first trial I ever covered was the double homicide of two elderly women, one of whom I knew from her service on the board of a youth group I belonged to in junior high and high school,” Keene explained. “It wasn’t until after the verdict that I informed her daughter that I knew her mother.
“Her response was to break down in tears and embrace me.
“That was a touching moment for me, because even though I had given equal weight to both sides of the case, she didn’t feel that I had betrayed her mother in any way.
“I went away feeling that I had done my job well.”
Lauren, in times of tragedy like this week, it’s all any of this staff can hope for.
While I Have You Here: Thank goodness, here’s the good news from Boston. Golden Valley Harriers officials Craighton Chin and Martin Sengo report on how our local runners did on Monday…
“This race report was supposed to feature Jim Flanigan’s 30th Boston Marathon (and 100th marathon) completion,” Sengo said via email. “It was supposed to highlight Laurin Beckhusen’s 15 consecutive Boston finishes. Regretfully, I cannot report these milestones.”
Both runners were diverted from the course after the bomb blasts.
“Sometimes life doesn’t go as planned and we make adjustments. I am grateful that all of our Boston GVH runners are safe, but deeply saddened for the victims and their families,” Sengo continued.” It is sad to think that the aura of running Boston may be forever changed.
“But through the tragedy, we find strength — in our club President Steve Andrews, who persistently led the charge in tracking down GVH runners and expressed his genuine concern about each member; in our members who opened up their family’s homes to accommodate runners; in everyone who expressed their care and concern throughout this disaster.”
Andrews led an accomplished cadre of GVH runners and set a marathon personal best at 2:42.
Sam Bird finished in 2:47. Jason Cavatorta had a 5-minute PR at 2:50. New member Di Wu had a stellar sub-3-hour performance, finishing in 2:58. All previously mentioned — along with Michael Park, Greg Loge, John Burmester, Clariza Aguillon-Doms and Dan Landherr — bettered their qualifying times. Cristina Ramirez led the women and had a great race. A battered Matt Young started the race, but dropped out with injuries after a strong first half (1:22).
Davis surgeon Mick Petersen, not affiliated with GVH, finished in 4:01 — eight minutes before the bombs went off.
Bruce Fisher also was not allowed to finish after the bombs went off. Flanigan’s consecutive Boston streak is other-worldly (25-plus). Beckhusen ran his 15th consecutive Boston Marathon. Officials could grant the trio “finish” status.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8047.