NORMAN — Sometimes it’s hard to be a journalist. We have to approach people we don’t know and ask them questions. Often, those questions come at times when people don’t really want to talk to anyone, especially the media.
We are perceived in movies to be cold, heartless and unwilling to see the good in the world. We are forced to go to banquets where we have to dress nice, something journalists don’t really like to do, and make small talk.
You’d think we’d be good at small talk, since that’s the nature of our business, but some of us still struggle. We also try not to show our emotions when we are out on an assignment.
Earlier in my career, my beat was crime and courts. I spent many hours inside an Oklahoma courtroom hearing verdicts that changed people’s lives forever. At times, I knew the individual in question was guilty and I knew they deserved punishment, but it was still hard to watch.
There were several times I had to pinch the inside of my arm to stop myself from crying right alongside a mother or father who had just watched their child become a part of the system.
I found myself on Tuesday, once again, trying my old tactic of pinching the inside of my arm, usually my left, to fight off the tears. This time it didn’t work.
During the Moore Chamber of Commerce luncheon Tuesday, seasoned meteorologist Gary England spoke to a packed house at the Yellow Rose Dinner Theater.
In the beginning of his speech, England revealed things about the early days of his life and career. He joked with the audience and told them about his wilder days on campus. Then his tone switched.
It was on everyone’s mind, I’m sure, that eventually England’s discussion would turn to severe weather. It was hard not discuss the weather, since we were all in a building less than a mile away from where, just months ago, an EF-5 tornado ripped across Moore.
On May 20, like most of my colleagues, I went on auto pilot. I had a job to do, and no emotions, although they were high, were going to slow me down.
I admit I had a quick cry when I learned my Moore home had been spared by the storm, and I had a second cry when my mom called to see if I was OK. But from then on out, it was all business all the time. When I would get a little emotional, I heard the words of a crusty editor I once had: “You can never let them see you cry.”
I’ve always been an easy crier — just ask my older brother. He was always in awe of how fast I could whip up some tears on the way to tell mom about his latest offense. The older I get, the more it seems I’ve been able to get a handle on the waterworks. But not on Tuesday.
During the luncheon, news clips were shown of Plaza Towers Elementary School immediately following that massive tornado. Those images are burned in most of our minds forever.
Intermingled with the news footage were behind-the-scene clips of television journalists showing emotion after discovering the grim news that there were children inside that hollowed-out building. It showed those journalists, often depicted as cold and heartless, having emotions.
It was hard to sit at a table with people I’d just met and show a side of myself that was real. Another thing we journalists try to do when we are at luncheons is not embarrass ourselves. We try to use the correct fork and not reach across the table for the butter. And, in general, we prefer not to cry in front of strangers.
Leaving that luncheon, I felt so exposed. I cried on a Tuesday afternoon, in public. Around people I’d just made small talk with. They saw me be real. And, in reality, they saw me be a journalist because we are people. We have emotions. We are not cold-hearted and we have feelings, too.
Most of us chose this profession because we love it. We love the people we meet and we love having an impact on a community. We love sharing your stories. We love it when you read our stories, too.
One of the biggest compliments I’ve ever had is walking into a business or organization and seeing a story I’ve written framed and hanging on the wall or even just simply pinned to a bulletin board.
So to those few I shared a lunch with Tuesday, please remember my manners were good, I was dressed nicely, my small talk skills were impeccable and I’m sorry that I cried. I hope I didn’t make you uncomfortable but, after all, I am a real person. I am a journalist.
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