Young Journalist: ‘Reporters Are a Sketchy Breed’ :p

Angel McCurdy is a young journalist.  Yet, she jokes on Twitter that her love of “dresses, floral patterns, DIY projects, and newspapers” means she might actually be 80 years old.

As a staff writer at a kick-a** Florida daily, McCurdy has been fully ensconced in all-things journalism for awhile.  In her words, “I’ve been at it for a few years now and have started to realize that this profession is unlike any other.  The trials and tribulations are different from all other jobs.  Somehow, I have chosen to be in the profession where everyone hates you, everyone expects you to know everything, and everyone is watching your every move.”

I recently stumbled across her blog, and fell in love.  The writing is frank, funny, snarky without the cynicism.  It delivers a true glimpse of a twentysomething journalist’s travails circa NOW.  Students, take note.

With McCurdy’s permission, here is a recent post from her blog, titled, “Reporters: A Sketchy Breed”:

In the few years I’ve been working as a journalist I’ve learned things they never could have taught me in school. One of those things is that journalists aren’t quite right.  We tell morbid jokes, we rejoice when we’re asked to leave property, and we never falter when it comes to the question of whether to cross the police tape or not.  Always cross, never look back.

I’m fairly absorbed in the culture of reporters and journalism so it always surprises me when I tell an outsider a story and the reaction is the complete opposite of my cohorts.

Example 1:

I like telling jokes. It’s how I was raised, never taking myself too seriously and laughing my way through life.  The problem with journalists’ jokes is that we are engulfed in sad news, terrible circumstances, and situations that in most circles wouldn’t be joking matters.

Joking, though, takes us out of the seriousness of it, the sadness of the reality of what we deal with and helps us in our day to day.  I wouldn’t have lasted a week in this field if I would have thought about every death I had to write about and every pervert sitting in jail.  Jokes get us through the tough stuff.  So outsiders of journalism, just excuse us when we seem unfeeling and crass– it’s just a defense mechanism.

Example 2:

I’ve never been taught to talk back, question authority or make a fuss if things don’t go my way.  My mother’s solution to most problems is to back off and let bygones be bygones.  In the newsroom, if you don’t fight for information, question authority or raise a stink when you’re not getting what you want you’re doing it wrong.

I love when you hear someone yelling on the other side of the phone, or when I’m the one having to put a firm foot down because when the phone is hung up everyone cheers, congratulates, and gives you a pat on the back.  Things are done differently in the news world.

Example 3:

Last week, there was a young girl killed in a wooded area in between some residential homes. It’s sad, yes, but that is not the story.  The press release was literally three sentences with zero detail.  Well, that wouldn’t do.  So off I went on a quest to find something, anything.  And find it I did.

After what felt like years, I finally stumbled onto the street, which turned out to be a small road that dead-ended with one home and led to the wooded trail where her body was found.  When I arrived, the Sheriff’s Office was collecting their police tape and heading out, leaving behind one, small yellow piece of tape.

Most people would walk up to the tape, look over it, and walk away.  In the world of reporting, that just doesn’t seem like you’ve tried hard enough.  An arrest had been made, most of the tape had been removed, and the Sheriff’s deputies were gone so I figured the small strip of tape was more of a suggestion, which I didn’t abide by.

I casually walked under the tape and found the trail where I assumed she had been killed. Of course, I was this far, might as well keep going. I found every entrance blocked off, found an apartment complex that had been questioned the night before, and got some excellent quotes.

Then, as I was making my way back to my car, I found myself hiding behind a bush as a group of people– I have no clue who they were– were making their way under the yellow tape.  There were two entrances, so I stealthily walked the opposite way of the folks headed to the trail until I had made it out of the path and to my car.  (Without being seen, I might add.)

Reporters, we’re not normal.

3 Responses to “Young Journalist: ‘Reporters Are a Sketchy Breed’ :p”
  1. Iceman says:

    It sounds like this reporter has a lot to learn. Yes, reporters make crude jokes; they shouldn’t do it in public, because it’s unprofessional, and they shouldn’t hold it up like a badge of honor, but okay. That’s a difference of moral opinion. And yes, reporters they have to stand up to authority. BUT:

    Her example #3 is highly wrongheaded from an ethical and legal standpoint, and respectable reporters that I’ve met at respectable daily newspapers would be appalled at the behavior she described.

    Entering a crime scene without express permission of the police is not only unethical, it’s against the law. If caught, you can and will be arrested for it, and you will not be viewed as a hero when it’s all said and done. One thing I learned in newspapers: If you get arrested while violating the law, your colleagues will NOT back you up and the paper will NOT bail you out of jail.

    (Furthermore, if you gain access to information and sources through illegal methods, a respectable newspaper will not allow you to use it.)

    And another thing: Good reporters don’t crouch in bushes. Hiding from members of the public, and avoiding/refusing identifying yourself as a reporter, is highly unethical and dishonest. It’s not what a reporter does and is antithetical to the openness and honesty that reporters symbolize.

    If you can’t find information and sources the legal way, and you find yourselves hiding from people while you are reporting, you’re doing it wrong.

  2. a REAL journalist who is familiar with the law says:

    Iceman – You obviously are not a journalist. Some of the most important news that has ever been published was learned by skirting authority to find out the truth. Also – if police do not follow proper procedure to secure something that they consider a crime scene, they can hardly arrest her and hold up in trial that she was doing anything wrong. Do you really think that a small piece of tape for gives the impression that an entire wooded area is off limits. I think not. And I don’t think taking care to not be seen is as harsh a matter as you treat it. She was not doing anything illegal and a person, on the job or not, has right to stay out of sight. It’s not like she was listening in on their conversation and taking quotes from them. Maybe you shouldn’t talk about things you don’t understand.

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