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The not-so-glamorous daily grind of the journalist

By Maggie Burnett
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday Jan. 9, 2002

Maggie Burnett

The life of a journalist is not glamorous.

I know - try to contain your shock. But seriously, I think some people truly believe journalists have the easy life. Sure, we don't exactly have set office hours; we definitely don't have to show up to work wearing business attire; and, well, we probably have one of the more exciting and interesting jobs in the world.

But those things aside, the role a journalist plays in society is one that has been detested and picked apart since the first caveman learned how to write. As time continues to pass, the media have been equated to an in-human, robot race, one that goes through the motions just to nail down the best story or beat the competing publication.

Now, this isn't meant to be a sob story describing the lowly existence of the underpaid, unappreciated journalist. However, hopefully by the end of this column, one small thing will have been clarified - journalists are people too.

On the morning of Sept. 11, I woke around 7:40 a.m. to the sound of my phone ringing. I had barely scratched out a "hello" when my roommate on the other end demanded to know if I had yet seen what was on TV. The next few minutes were mostly a blur, but I remember two thoughts passing through my head as I watched the horror in New York unfold: "Oh my God" and "I need to get to the Wildcat."

For the rest of that long day, I'll admit - I did go into robot mode. Being the news editor at the time meant exactly that - pumping out the news. And strangely, this awesome sense of pride came over me at the end of the day as I realized how quickly the staff had come together to report such a tragic event.

After I left work that day, however, something happened to me that I simply did not bargain for - I cried. I can remember curling up on the couch in front of CNN and sobbing softly for the thousands of people who had died - and for the millions whose lives I knew would never be the same.

The next day, I realized I had turned off the emotional sector of my brain for the duration of the previous day and didn't consciously turn it back on until I arrived home late that night. And you know what - that idea really scares the hell out of me. The ability to turn off the basic human function of feeling is a sad talent that a jaded subculture of journalists have allowed themselves to master.

Partially guided by this jaded feeling, the next few weeks were nothing less than a blur for me either. Letters about the tragedy flooded through our doors while endless calls were taken from angry readers demanding to know why only "certain aspects" of the event had been reported - as if we as journalists only selected specific pieces of the horror to reveal to our audience. Quite honestly, the hostility I felt from various members of the university community was shocking. I felt as though I was watching the public punch a hole through its trust in the media right next to the one that had just been punched through the hearts of every last American.

This is the sickening feeling that ironically brings me to my initial point - journalists are people too. Though the unchanged foundation of this business is to provide accurate and fair news coverage to the masses, I think sometimes people forget the people who provide this coverage are every bit as human as those who receive it. We all watched CBS's Dan Rather breakdown in tears while talking to David Letterman on the first "Late Show" after the attacks. It seemed as if for one brief moment on the air, Rather, arguably one of the most recognized broadcast journalists worldwide, let his robot-faŤade down long enough to allow the American public to realize that yes, he is human.

I absolutely commend him for this selfless act.

What Rather did that night was something that most journalists would never be willing to do: He expressed emotion. If given a second thought, the person who would have expected Rather to remain stoic and unscathed in the wake of the events of Sept. 11 is the one who is truly inhuman.

Although I'd hope that those reading the paper understand journalists are not an elitist race of machines, the point of all this is not to be misconstrued, however. Factual errors, grammatical blunders and glaring misrepresentations will not be tolerated on the "we're only human" premise. That's absurd.

But if one thing can be learned here, I hope that it's this: Every last staff member at the Wildcat is entirely committed to producing a balanced and trustworthy daily newspaper, regardless of the consequences. And unfortunately, sometimes this pursuit of perfection forces that old feeling of robotic motion to creep back into our lives. But journalism is a tough business and if keeping up with the constantly changing events of the world means sacrificing the easy life, then so be it. After all, nobody ever said being a journalist was glamorous.


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