Star-News staff writer Allison K. Sampité deserves a commendation. Not necessarily for writing, as you might expect, but for demonstrating grace under pressure.
Sampité spent a recent afternoon shadowed by a high school senior interested in learning about journalism. It must have been unnerving having a 17-year-old sitting three feet away silently judging her.
I don’t know what the kid expected. There aren’t many, if any, TV shows about journalists so I don’t know where she might be able to develop any misconceptions about the profession. But I’d be shocked if the youngster expected to be as underwhelmed as she presumably was.
Newsrooms, whether they are weeklies or dailies, aren’t what they used to be.
At dailies industry layoffs have forced people out the door, gutting once vibrant environments and muting engaging chatter and all-too-often less than high-brow repartee.
At weeklies — this one anyway — the editorial staff is already at a ghastly minimum and often the loudest noise in the newsroom is the sound of Sampité’s fingers plucking away at her keyboard. Life is lonely and quiet when you are the only staff writer in the building.
Wednesdays are generally a busy day for Sampité. Usually she’s putting the finishing touches on stories that I will invariably nitpick and send back for revisions. But this week was different. This week all the stories were in early and I wasn’t my usual sour self. Not much for Sampité to do but place phone calls and get working on next week’s stories.
Call, leave a message and wait. Repeat as needed.
If I were that kid watching Sampité work, my essay would have read as follows:
The life of a modern day reporter is not a glamorous one. They sit at a cluttered desk waiting for people who may or may not want to talk to them to return their phone call. There is perhaps more excitement and human contact in being a telemarketer or a mortician.
To be fair there are days when being a journalist can be an adrenaline-fueled charge but those days are usually preceded by a tragic event or someone’s misery. (I wonder if that’s how it is for police.)
But for the most part being a reporter is being a patient story teller. Gathering facts and presenting them in coherent, engaging order doesn’t make for great TV. Or even exciting reality. Nonetheless it’s a job that lots of people would argue is integral to a free and open society. But how do you convey that to a teenager working on a senior project?
Good luck, Sampité. Better you than me.