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December 14, 2009
By Kelli Warner,
KMTR-TV Morning News anchor, Springfield
When people ask me what’s the toughest part of my job, I don’t even have to think about this one. The hardest part of the news, for me, is reporting the bad stuff. You know what I’m talking about, the stories that, no matter how hard you try, you just can’t wrap your head around.
One that comes quickly to memory happened earlier this year. A man, blitzed out of his mind drove away from a local bar and just minutes later, slammed into an SUV and killed two mothers and two children. That was a story that touched the souls of people who didn’t even know anyone in those vehicles. The mere realization that “It could have been me, it could have been my kids” was enough to sadden and outrage an entire community.
Here’s the thing: In journalism school, I was taught that when covering a story, you need to answer the five “w”s—who, what, where, when and why. But what do you do when the one question that most people want to know the most, need to know—the “why”—has no answer? Or offers nothing that makes the situation better? That’s definitely a tough one.
I also get asked a lot why I became a journalist. That’s easy. I always say that despite the bad stuff, there’s a lot of good to be shared. In fact, some of the greatest stories I’ve ever told are about people who really didn’t think they had a story to tell at all. One that’s always had a place in my heart is a story from Florence. A seven year old boy riding home in the family minivan one day tells his mom about kids at his school who don’t have enough to eat. But instead of just making an observation, and asking a few questions, like most seven-year-olds would, this little boy wanted to do something about it. He started collecting used books and holding a book sale to raise money for the local food pantry. His first sale brought in $4,000 dollars (remember, he’s seven). This year, at age 11, that little boy raised more than $16,000 to feed local families.
Impressive to say the least, right? But here’s the best part: that little boy never did any of it for recognition. I can tell you from visiting with him every year during his book drive that getting attention was never his intention. He simply saw a problem and wanted to help fix it.
Those generally aren’t the stories that top the evening’s headlines at news stations around the country. But shouldn’t they? I mean, yes, there’s basic information that viewers and readers need and want, and it’s our responsibility to provide it. But beyond that, there’s other stuff we as journalists should make sure gets told.
They’re the stories that reassure us that in this topsy-turvy world we live in, there’s a lot of good out there.
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