I’m reading the newspaper, all of these articles where the writer is interviewing someone, a politician, a business owner, maybe some guy on the street in order to get a sense of how the public feels. Whenever I see those quotation marks, I’m always trying to imagine myself as if I were there, a guy on the sidewalk watching a journalist hold up a mini tape recorder to a person’s face, getting that quotation.
It’s got to be a tough job, listening to people, letting them get their side of the story out. Even if you aren’t the most opinionated person in the world, I imagine that, if you have a microphone thrust in your face, you’re going to have something to say. If you’re writing an article for a newspaper, you’re supposed to get a bunch of different viewpoints, right? So that means going through all of those clips and trying to piece together a sentence here and a comment there that’ll make sense in terms of what you’re trying to put down on paper.
And maybe you are the most opinionated person in the world. Maybe a reporter is asking your take on a story and you’ve got a lot to say about it. “Write that down,” I can hear someone telling a reporter, sprinkling it in every few sentences, “Make sure you write that down too,” after an especially poignant insight, “Did you get that down? Put that in the article.”
I wrote for my newspaper in college, but only opinion pieces. I’ve always felt like the whole process of researching something, then calling people up to talk about it, then doing all of that fact-checking and everything … it’s just way too much like schoolwork, that is, too many separate little things that I’d have to somehow edit and coalesce to make a finished product.
Why go through all of that trouble when I could just run my mouth, pull words straight out of my ass, give it a very quick read through to make sure I haven’t made any egregious grammatical errors or contradicted myself several times throughout the course of a piece, and then call it a day?
But toward the end of my senior year I wanted to branch out a little. I wrote an article for the sports section about the water polo team. I felt like I needed to write a news article. The news editor gave me a story, I don’t remember the details, but I know I had to call up the head of campus security. When the phone rang, I was really surprised that he actually answered it. I had really only prepared to leave a voicemail message, to get one in return, and then to use that as the quote for what I’d put down in the article.
I think it was maybe about safety? I can’t remember. The only thing I do recall is not really having much to say, and this guy knew it, but he was nice enough to play along with the wannabe journalist. I got home, the whole interview process left me a little less than confident about my credentials to write a news piece, and so instead of finding random students on campus to continue the investigative process, I just made a bunch of fake quotes and attributed them to my friends and roommates.
And so yeah, part of me wishes that I had started with the news pieces earlier, like maybe instead of bailing after one awkward article, I could have stuck it out, learned how to do it for real. Because whenever I read a quote, from the mayor, from a homeless person, I always have their voices in my head, I’m always piecing together the ninety percent of the interview that didn’t make it to the finished product. The “write that down,” and, “Ooh, ooh, make you sure you get that, make you use that in the article. That was a really good one. You’re going to use that, right?” But I don’t know, because I never bothered, and now I’m just stuck sitting here imagining how everything goes down in real life.