Note: This is not indicative of all newspapers or reporters, it just reflects my time at the Colorado Daily.
You wake up in the morning and think, “This is way too early. I’m definitely not getting paid enough for this.”
Then you look at your day-planner to see if this is a day you’re actually getting paid or not. You are.
The planner tells you to get your ass to the newspaper’s HQ. You throw last night’s beer cans into the recycling bin and pour cereal into your cleanest (but still dirty) bowl. As you eat, you read some stories and emails on your laptop. You don’t have an iPhone because this is 2005. And even if it wasn’t 2005, there’s no way you could afford one.
You shower, throw on some clothes and drive to the office. The morning meeting already started, but since you’re also still a journalism school student and work as a bouncer/bartender to make ends meet (even though they rarely did), the Big Boss pretends not to be pissed that you’re a little late.
While you’ve seen the horrors of car accidents, fires and brutal fistfights, you almost hope one of those things happened so you don’t have to do one of the three worst reporting jobs, in my opinion: 1. Local politics, 2. Talk to public relations people about stuff, or 3. Think of new stories.
Thank goodness, the guy that actually likes politics is working today. No worries about going to the courtroom. Unfortunately, the entertainment writer lady is also here, so there’s no way you’re getting free samples at the new sandwich shop. The sports guy does the sports crap. You’re feeling a little nervous, kind of like in algebra class when the teacher knows you have no clue what the answer is and calls on you.
That’s when the Big Boss asks, “So, Freeman. What’s new on the street?”
Adjusting your tie that a friend tied for you months ago, you say, “Well, um. This is kind of weird, but I think this is kind of interesting. Especially for a city like Boulder that’s supposed to be all liberal. One of my customers at the bar emailed me that her friend, who is black, was walking home by the 7-Eleven. Some other dudes drove by in a car and called him the ‘N word’ and suckerpunched him and then sped off. Maybe he broke his jaw or something. You think that’s worth looking into?”
Big Boss slaps you on the back and says, “Now that’s what I call ear-to-the-ground journalism! Freeman, you’ve done it again!”
“I have?” All I really did was read my email and hope I didn’t have to drive very far, listen to firefighters laugh at me because I don’t know about building codes or learn about some new city law that I don’t care about.
This real story did break, however, and it changed how a lot of people looked at Boulder’s treatment of minorities. Obviously, not everything is/was perfect. However, no editors or publishers breathed down my neck that day. I found a story and reported on the story.
None of this was politically motivated. If I hadn’t written about the black man who was assaulted, I’d probably ask if we could do a story about what Zamboni drivers do in the summertime. Or the Big Boss would tell me to write about the flooded library building.
We never did investigative journalism at the Colorado Daily because we didn’t have the budget or time for that. We barely had the budget for coffee. If the University of Colorado didn’t send us interns, the newspaper probably would have crumbled.
After writing that very emotional article, I probably either drove to the bar to work and then studied or studied and then drove to the bar to work. Then slept and started the entire routine over.
What’s the lesson? There are many, but the main one for me is: Local newspapers are important not only to bring these stories to light, but also for new reporters to report on them. Do what you can to support your local paper.