(previously published here on September 25, 2008)
Like musicians and strains of melody, reporters generally have an “ear” for newsworthy events and reporting opportunities. Whether it’s being at the scene of a car accident and interviewing witnesses (after pulling people out of the wrecking, per Journalistic Ethics discussions) or chasing a tornado, or pursuing a hesitant, but important, source for a story, journalists tend toward a knack of blending curiosity and intuition. We’re reporters and we’re hungry for stories!
But sometimes reporting needs to take a backburner to our humanity, as well as to practicality.
This week, an elderly woman had a heart attack on the city bus I was taking home. Two teenaged girls sitting across from her immediately told the driver to stop and proceeded to call 911. Since the woman kept saying she lives just a few blocks away, I went over and, loathing standing by helplessly and wanting to do something for her but having 911 already taken, asked her if anyone was home to call. She said yes and I called her husband, Alex. Within 10 minutes, one set of EMTs, two fire trucks, the ambulance and Alex arrived. I watched them take her off the bus in a wheelchair, then got off the bus, made sure the EMTs didn’t need me to fill out a statement, and went home.
Pretty simple and straightforward.
But what kept bothering me for hours after was that my internal monologue/reaction to the woman having a heart attack was - at least in my mind - seflish: I wanted not just to help her, but to be a part of the action. The human side of me wanted to do all I could to help and the inquisitive side didn’t want to be left behind, not knowing and engaging in the details. So while this was not newsworthy material, but there was still a part of me that wanted to question passengers and EMTs to get into their heads, too. And now I felt somewhat ashamed.
But why be ashamed?
So my questions are: is this story an example of simply normal inquisitiveness and desire to help or could a journalist be so entrenched in a desire for answers and context that they get drawn to stories that aren’t stories?