During one of the first Little League baseball games I covered as reporter and photographer, I was confronted by a gentleman who asked me to explain the Little League rules that govern subbing in a player who is not in the batting order.
I suspected it was a test, and that he knew the answer.
I was already familiar with the far too prevalent notion that women knew nothing about sports and really had no business participating in them. I knew, too, how to read a face, and was fairly certain my interrogator had the same attitude about female reporters.
“I don’t know,” I admitted, teeing him up perfectly for what he’d been yearning to say already, and did: “Well, then what the hell kind of reporter are you?”
I quickly scanned the ballpark, spotted my local League official, and responded, “I’ll show you.”
Seconds later, I returned with chapter and verse of the definitive Little League rule, delivering the answer with speed and accuracy, right inside the strike zone. Looking my inquisitor straight in the eye, I said, “That’s what kind of reporter I am.”
It was a simple enough procedure, requiring no particular skills, other than the common sense to find a good source and the willingness to ask.
So what kind of reporters are we today? The means and methods change daily, but the basics remain the same.
Two weeks ago, the scanner squawked, sirens sounded. A pickup truck had veered off the road and collided with a tree, just outside of town. I grabbed a camera and notebook, hopped in the Jeep and headed north.
The scene was horrific. The crushed vehicle had burst into flames and been quickly extinguished by more than a dozen volunteer firefighters. They worked feverishly to reach the victim, who was, at that point, still alive. The crush and heat of metal made extrication slow and difficult.
Two ambulances and several paramedics stood by, ready to administer aid. The area swarmed with law enforcement officers—some directing the traffic which was already stacked up for miles in both directions, others taking statements from shocked and tearful witnesses.
Aside from a brief preliminary Facebook post reporting that emergency responders were on scene, that the driver’s condition was unknown, and that the highway was blocked, I knew the story was no longer mine. By the time I returned to the office, it would already have been picked up by area TV and radio stations, and posted on social media.
My job that day was to be present.
To hear the tire explode, and to watch as firefighters staggered slightly backward, before resuming their extrication efforts.
To hear the first-hand account of a witness who watched as the pickup left the roadway, who saw it engulfed in flames, who was stricken with guilt because she could not reach the driver.
To shoot that photo—a wide-angle shot of the traffic-clogged highway, and to one side, the barely visible pickup wedged into a tree.
My job—our job, as reporters—is simply to get it right, which isn’t the same as first. To tell the story in its full context. And in this case, to observe the human toll one terrible accident takes—not on just one life, but on many.
Oh, and about that Little League game?
In that week’s Field Notes, I wrote about childhood and baseball. How I saved every penny I made working at the newspaper office to buy that first Rawlings baseball glove (which I still have).
About the smell of the leather, and the way I broke that glove in, carefully folding it under my pillow every night, so it would hold its shape and feed my baseball dreams.
I wrote about the sound of a baseball practically pocketing itself, slapping the softened cowhide—a sound so good and pure I can hear it still.
I wrote about marking it with my initials, in precise block letters. A serious glove for serious business.
I wrote, too, about the hours I spent playing catch with my little brother in the backyard, preparing for my Little League career, and about how that childhood idyll was shattered when I learned girls weren’t allowed to play.
That’s what kind of reporter I was, and hope I still am.
And those are the stories we can tell better than anyone—with such compelling accuracy and immediacy, they cannot be ignored.