I owe much credit to my predecessor in this position, Craig Macho, for recruiting me into becoming a staff reporter for the Leader, Times and News. For those who don’t know, Craig and I worked in law enforcement as beat partners and detectives together for several years in the Bay Area. When Craig heard of my service retirement, he urged me to join him in the field of journalism.
“It’s just like being a detective,” Craig claimed. “You chase leads, interview people, and come back to the office and write about it.”
How right he was. Not only have I discovered how insightful Craig’s sentiment was, and that there are so many more ironies of these two professions, I’ve developed a whole new respect for those in the field of journalism who I had considered “the nerdy bunch” through high school.
(Think about it, who right now is not thinking about the kid on their high school paper?)
Just like in cop work, I find myself forming a line of questions for my interviews, getting background information before my contacts, gathering facts, and filtering through the superfluous or various spins people try to put on a situation.
Depending on the story, some people require prodding to talk and I also have to go to outside sources to verify or disprove a belief. Most, however, are more than happy to talk with me, providing me the information I need. In fact, I’ve found I receive more respect as a news reporter than I ever did as a cop, especially in getting return calls from prominent people of the community.
As with police work, feathers do get ruffled occasionally and not everyone is happy all the time.
I used to cringe when driving my police car when receiving an open-ended radio call of, “see the sergeant at the station” that eventually led to a “come in, close the door” informing me of some unhappy citizen disputing something I did or wrote.
This uneasy feeling still takes place on the journalistic level but the sergeant has been replaced by an editor and I’m amazed that they say nearly the same things that is prefaced with the standard, “I received a phone call…”
Quotes are an important part to any news story. They go directly to the emotion and essence an individual is trying to make. I’m now feverishly taking notes a la Detective Paloma style to capture the point my subject is relaying when out in the field or talking on the phone.
While I’m not going to be a Conrad Dobler type — he was the famous troublemaker from those 1980s Miller Lite commercials who’d always do the, “Did you hear what he said?” lines to stir things up — the tendency is to get a balance of subjects, pro and con, to comment about a certain matter.
On a recent article, I was accused of having quotes from the involved subjects to enflame a situation and I should have told the persons what the others had said before going to print. These are the type of moments, as with law enforcement, where you just want to say, “Do you actually hear what you’re saying?”
When I accepted the badge 27 years ago, I accepted the fact that there would be any number of the citizenry that would tell me how to do my job better. The same is true in the newsroom as I’ve been called by the public to be told that I should have included a certain picture in a feature or used the quote from an additional person in an article.
While one would think that with my background I would prefer the crime beat, I’m glad to be covering the city government assignment for the paper. I fear I may be out at some crime scene trying to interject myself into the investigation talking about, “In my day…” and irritating the investigators or cops at the incident. Best let things be.
Through my years in government service I’ve seen the functions of city councils and school boards for the cities I’ve worked and lived in in action. I’ve come to believe that while the circus tent may change, the clown act remains the same.
I want to make it clear; I’m not stating that those involved are clowns. Quite the opposite since becoming a reporter; I’ve discovered some very true, caring, and competent personnel in those positions. I’m more or less referring to the issues, personalities, and topics that are dealt with by any government entity. There are the power struggles, the regimes, the outcasts, and the pet projects at all levels all over.
At the police academy I remember the instructors telling us of the importance of an accurate police report and how police officials, attorneys, and judges read the document as the matter progressed through the judicial system. As a reporter I’ve discovered that my work is read by thousands more, again stressing the importance of accountability and accuracy of what is written. This is a new discovery I enjoy.
While Joe Friday was a “just the facts, ma’am” character, I want my news stories to be balanced with both sides of an issue and “show” — not just “tell” — the details of an event.
Richard Paloma is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times. He may be reached at 847-3021.