We’re pretty lucky to be journalists.
Yeah, I know. We are so lucky that most new journalists earn just above the poverty level, often working nights and weekends, no less. And how much luckier can you get than that 2 a.m. wake-up call to cover a gruesome traffic fatality?
But what is great about our jobs is that we can do what we want. Sure, we still have deadlines to keep and rules to follow, but as long as we do those simple things, we have total freedom to explore our interests.
Do you like sports? You can hang out with Peyton Manning in the locker room. If politics is your game, you can spend hours at city hall, or, if you are really good, the White House. Like gardening, cooking or art? There is a job for you.
What makes journalism so great is that we can devote all of our efforts to telling stories about our passions.
There is just one catch: We must have the guts to do it.
In the pages of this month’s Quill, you will meet 10 people who defy mainstream journalism in order to pursue their interests and tell stories the way they want. We have dubbed them “extreme journalists.”
In reality, they are not unlike you or me. Some are married, some are single. Some are seasoned pros, some are students. Some are men, some are women.
But instead of sitting through meetings at city hall or school corporation headquarters, these people get their stories from the jungles of Africa, the mountain tops in Central America and the treacherous llama pastures of Indiana.
I know what you’re thinking. Llamas are cute and cuddly. But for all their fluffy traits, they have a dark side, and Indiana AgriNews field editor Rebecca Wilson can prove it.
Wilson is just one of the “extreme” journalists highlighted in this issue of Quill.
Others include Mike Dorning of the Chicago Tribune, who has done several tours in Iraq and dodged bullets while on assignment in Haiti. There is Cleo Paskal, who caught Dengue Fever in Kiribati and married a man from the Faroe Islands. Then we have Tom Clynes, who has covered the Ebola epidemic of Uganda, and Michael Iachetta, who clinically died while on a whitewater rafting assignment in Alaska.
We have a journalism student who is a dogsled guide and recently planned a trip to the Arctic Sea for a story on shark angling. Then there is Larry Olmsted, who has set two Guinness world records. We have a photographer who scales mountains and another who has flown around the world.
And, there is SPJ’s own Emily Sweeney – reporter for the Boston Globe. Little about Sweeney’s job would be considered “extreme,” but the way she goes about it might surprise you.
Most of these people are willing to live freelance paycheck to freelance paycheck. There is no job security for many of them, there is no company 401(k), there often is no time for family. Yet, they give up the comforts most strive for, and they do it with unabashed enthusiasm. In fact, you couldn’t get most of them to take the job of a beat reporter.
To them, an office job is for crazy people.
For me, my passion is family. And an 8-to-5 office job with benefits suits me just fine.
But the great thing about journalism is that if you’re willing to work for it, you too, can wear a shirt and tie and sit in a cozy office all day – or you can dodge bullets and hang off a cliff 1,000 feet above jagged rocks.
The January/February issue of Quill featured a story about Rhode Island television reporter Jim Taricani, who was convicted of criminal contempt for refusing to reveal a source.
After serving about four months of his six-month sentence to home confinement, Taricani was granted his release on April 9.
Taricani was convicted of violating a court order to disclose the identity a source who gave him an FBI videotape in 2000. The tape, which was broadcast by WJAR-TV in 2001, showed an aide to Mayor Vincent Cianci taking a $1,000 bribe. At the time, lawyers, investigators and others involved in the corruption investigation, were under the court’s order to withhold any surveillance tapes.
Taricani refused to reveal his source, who he said had demanded confidentiality. But a week later, his source, Joseph A. Bevilacqua Jr., identified himself.
While sentencing Taricani, Judge Ernest C. Torres said that “a reporter should be chilled from violating the law in order to get a story” and “from making ill-advised promises of confidentiality in order to encourage a source to do so.”
Since this case began, SPJ has signed on to support legislation for a federal shield law that would protect all journalists and their need to work with confidential sources.
People and places
Were you recently promoted? Did you get a new job or recently graduate? If so, Quill wants to hear about it. Send us your SPJ member news, and we will include it in “People and Places.” Send your information to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail to:
People and Places
Society of Professional Journalists
3909 N. Meridian St.
Indianapolis, IN 46208
Joe Skeel is editor of Quill. He can be reached at email@example.com or (317) 927-8000, ext. 214.