Reflections after a decade in community journalism: It isn’t supposed to be easy

I am entering my second decade at the helm of the Whitesboro News-Record.

Granted, I’ve left a few brief times and come back, but all roads have led us back here.  This January will mark the 11th anniversary of my first being named the editor and a lot has changed for me in that time.

We have one more child than we did back then and the twin babies we had back then aren’t babies anymore.

I managed to earn a master’s degree along the way.

We were able to buy a house.

I am the only face in this office that was here when I first started more than 10 years ago.

Time marches on.

I thumb through the archives each week and see the faces of people we’ve lost over the past 10 years. I was blessed to have known them all.

I think ahead another 10 years and choke up at the number of beloved community members we hold dear today who won’t be there with us then.

The community newspaper does a few things: We report on births. We report on graduations. We report on marriages. We report on deaths. We report on all the highlights in a person’s life. We tell the stories of the people with whom we share our corner of the planet.

We do all these things together with you. We live, love, grieve and grow together, as a community.

It is these connections that keep me in this business.

It is these relationships I hold so dear. Life is short and we must cherish each other.

I was reminded of this last Wednesday when the police scanner reported a seven-car accident on Hwy. 377.

It was pouring rain and we hadn’t gone to print yet. I knew what I needed to do.

I’ve covered too many of these scenes, but never one quite like this. It was dark, and wet, and cold. There was wreckage everywhere and I couldn’t make sense of it.

Over the years I’ve developed a habit when walking onto an accident scene where I know someone has lost their life.

I find a first responder I know well— a familiar face— and I ask, “Is it anyone we know?”

Too often, it is.

This is where the lines of objectivity in responsible journalism can get skewed by emotion.

And this was the case last week. There was a man declared dead as a result of this massive pile-up. I found out later I knew him.

Albeit, years ago, but I knew him.

He was a high school boss. I hauled hay for him and fed his cows on occasion.

I even once sold him a piece of furniture I had built.

It’s times like these covering the news in your community hits home.

It’s certainly not the first time it’s happened either.

As community journalists, we sometimes must report events that are the absolute low points in someone’s life. And it is often people we know.

I hesitate to offer examples about each and every one of these experiences in the course of my career— in the spirit of not reliving them, but they are plentiful and they are hard to deal with.

This job can leave you feeling physically beaten at the end of a day.

The degree of tragedy in which you encountered with a given story can correlate to this beating.

I have been left feeling like I’ve literally been kicked in the gut more than once.

Maybe I internalize the pain of others too much. Maybe I feel guilty about having to make news of their sorrow.

Maybe I wish all news was good news.

Last Wednesday was one of these times.

After we put the paper to bed that night, I couldn’t rest my thoughts.

I took pen to notebook and jotted down a few words:

“And just like that, the emergency scanner goes off. Seven car pile-up on the highway. At least one deceased. Calling for the jaws of life. Not enough ambulances available. Bystanders pitching in. Performing CPR. And the community newspaper is there to document it all. The hard work of heroes and the sorrow of families. Seven lives changed forever and at least one life ended. I’ve been doing this a long time and it will never be easy.”

That last sentence got me.

“Will this ever be easy?” I asked myself.

Almost immediately I answered myself, “It can’t be easy. I can’t let it become easy.”

The day this becomes easy is the day I’ve lost empathy for people in times of sorrow. The day we lose empathy is the day we need to be doing something else. We can’t serve our communities properly without proper empathy.

No matter your line of work, no matter your passion — we all have an effect on the people we serve. Our community. Our tribe.

No matter your work, you serve. We were put here to serve others.

The day we lose our empathy is the day we cease to serve.

Don’t lose your empathy. Service is not supposed to be easy.