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
“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
later, leaving your child, the party, and the cupcake hour in the care of
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
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.
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,
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
listener, viewer the scoop … while you are waiting for the laundry
cycle to flip from wash to dry.
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
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
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"
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.