By Eileen Douglas

Recently, wrapping up a radio interview where, the tables being turned, I was the guest and not the interviewer, the hostess asked me a question I’ve never found easier to answer in my life.

“What does it take to be a journalist?”

To my surprise, the answer was out of my mouth before I had time to think about it.

“You have to really want. Really, really want it.”

We both laughed. We knew how true it was.

Nothing else could be more important. Not the theater tickets you may have to give away. Not the dinner plans you may have to break. Not the normal Monday through Friday, 9 to 5 life everyone else you know is leading.

You have to be glad when they call you in the middle of the night to cover a church fire in Harlem in the dead of winter…when your pen ink is freezing and can’t scratch out your copy into your notebook…and you’re loving every minute of it.

You have not to give it a second thought when the phone rings on your day off half way through your four year old’s birthday party just as the clown is beginning to twist up his balloons, and you are out the door five minutes later, leaving your child, the party, and the cupcake hour in the care of kindly neighbors.

That’s how much you have to want it.

That’s what, in our business, we would call “the right stuff.”

Once, when I was the news director of a radio station with a small news staff in Louisville, Kentucky, I called one of our reporters at home to tell her we needed her for an emergency. A major story, which today I can’t remember … and she declined to come. What was her reason? She had just put in her laundry and couldn’t leave because she had to shift it to the dry cycle when it was ready. Needless to say, this was not the right stuff.

The right stuff is an over the top, all out, nothing can stop my dedication to getting the story or working the shift.

The deeper question is why you would want it so much. Why you would so badly want and need to be part of the action, to be at the center of the whirl. To sacrifice what normal people would think insane to give up.

Each of us may have our own reasons.

When I was a girl, I would sit before our black and white television set and drink up the words and wisdom of the news correspondents. They understood the world. They knew what was “really going on.” They talked to kings and rulers. They could tell you the inside scoop. Best would be the end of year, correspondents’ roundtable sum up shows. Watching them gave me an “Oh, wow” feeling. I wanted to be one of the people who knew the inside scoop, as the inside scoop was something I clearly had no claim on. I realize, by extension, I also wanted to be one of the people who gave you the “Oh, wow.”

When I was young, I look back now, and see how much this was about wanting to be “in” when I felt “out.” Out because I was young and wanted to rub shoulders with the mayor, the governor, the presidential candidate. Out because I was a woman, not of the mainstream religion, and certainly not of the elite.

Yes, I was always curious. I didn’t want to miss anything. I was always looking to learn, and what better way to learn than to be present as a newsperson “at the scene.” But I also wanted to be included. Respected. Heard.

Many years ago, at dinner with a friend, who happened to be a psychologist, she told me there are deep reasons why anyone picks the work they do. None of it is an accident. There is an underlying psychological thumbprint. A lawyer, she told me, is angry. He picks the work so he or she can fight with people, but in a socially acceptable way. A surgeon is hostile. He (or she) wants to cut up people, but chooses to do it in a socially acceptable way. “What motivates a journalist?” I asked. She wouldn’t answer me. To this day, I am not sure what answer she was keeping from me!

Eileen Douglas early 1970s returning from assignment for WKLO Radio, Louisville, Kentucky.

But of one thing I am sure. Yes. To make it you have to really, really, really want it. Or someone else who wants it more will be out there giving the reader, listener, viewer the scoop … while you are waiting for the laundry cycle to flip from wash to dry.

Eileen Douglas




Eileen Douglas is a broadcast journalist turned independent documentary filmmaker. Former 1010 WINS New York anchor/reporter and correspondent for “ABC-TV’s Lifetime Magazine,” she is the author of “Rachel and the Upside Down Heart,” and co-producer of the films “My Grandfather’s House” and “Luboml:My Heart Remembers.” She can be reached at www.douglas-steinman.com.



I have always considered Assignment Sheet to be a venue that featured the life of news photographers. That would include still and video photographers.

However, when I was offered the above piece called "A Reporter's Life; Wanting It" by Eileen Douglas, I saw an immediate empathetic kinship. While Eileen may never have been a shooter, she is definitely a "Newspuke."

When Eileen talks about "wanting it," she reminded me of the zeal I felt when I first hit the streets as a young newspaper photographer in the '60's. I wanted it. I wanted it so badly that I was willing to take risks on the street. And, I certainly was guilty of taking risks with my marriage and my family life. Anyone who isn't in the journalism profession can never understand why anyone would leave in the middle of your kid's birthday party to cover a breaking story.

Most newspukes will do this, because they understand that even though there is no oath of office when you sign up to be a journalist, there really isn't such a thing as an eight hour day, five day week. News happens and it's in your blood to be there when and where it occurs.

Not all news people feel that way. They just don't want it enough. When the huge blackout hit the Northeast in the '60's (I believe), Newsday called in every staff photographer and reporter to cover this massive story. One photographer declined. He didn't want to leave his wife and kids alone in the dark. He just didn't "want it" enough.

Newsday decided that they didn't want him enough either so they fired him. Pity. He was a good photographer.

I want to welcome Eileen Douglas to Assignment Sheet. I am looking forward to publishing more of her articles.

Dick Kraus





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