Starting Something – Else

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I didn’t want to save journalism until I knew it was dying.

Maybe a Florence Nightingale syndrome or something much worse.

I should’ve listened to the great prophet Hunter S. Thompson or G.K. Chesterton before him.

I liked the idealism of it all. I wanted to be a foreign correspondent in a rough place. Eventually I’d be bureau chief. My kids would go to the English or the French school. My wife would have a book club with ladies wearing ḥijābs and gossiping about their husbands and the little freedoms. I would guide the daily coverage of the struggle. Whatever struggle currently defined the greater human struggle

Today I work at a standing desk in a second-floor office I share with two of my employees at a television station in Anchorage, Alaska. I stare at three screens all day, my phone, my iPad and my laptop.

Like a child trying to fit a triangle block into a square hole, I spend a lot of time squeezing, pushing, pulling, begging, pleading and crying.

I’ve been a city, county, state, health courts, mobile, video and digital journalist, back when beats were beats.

I like to think that the foreign correspondent pathway closed a long time before I decided to become a journalist. The Times and the Post both started closing bureaus before I even graduated from j-school.

In my second year, I cultivated a source in the Oregon National Guard, then readying for deployment to Afghanistan. I worked my way up to a proposed embed with the guard only to have it ripped away from me by a senior reporter.

You learn hard lessons easily in this line of work.

I reported from Cuba on the day Castro stepped down and from India after the Mumbai hotel bombing.

Other than an internship at the Kyiv Post during the lead-up to the Orange Revolution, these constitute the closest I’ve come to realizing my journalistic dreams.

But dreams have a funny way of playing out.

Missed opportunities lead to new jobs and new adventures. The green valleys of my Oregon youth gave way to the Rocky Mountains and stories from the plains of eastern Montana and deep in the wintry solitude of Yellowstone National Park. I spent the night on a mountain side next to a photographer as we tried to capture the life of a Mexican shepherd hired to tend the sheep eating noxious weeds for the city of Missoula. I documented a damn taken out, freeing the waters of the Blackfoot and the Clark Fork to merge naturally for the first time in 100 years.

I got laid off.

I covered the election of the first ever female write-in candidate for senate, a 2,000 mile snow machine race that Sarah Palin’s husband Todd nearly won. I interviewed Sarah Palin, and race officials took my kicker quote and made it in to a bumper sticker you’ll see mostly on the bumpers of trucks in Wasilla, Alaska.

I covered ice crabbing on the frozen Bering Sea, the Iditarod dog sled race, the release of a rehabilitated snowy owl on the tundra outside of Barrow. I went shark fishing for work in Cordova, flew over Arctic sea ice on the Chukchi with the Alaska National Guard in a C-130.

I helped Santa Claus deliver presents to children in the Arctic Circle town of Allakaket, and I watched the northern lights with 30 Japanese tourists at Chena Hot Springs trying to stay warm at 35 below zero.

I flew in the last commercial Grumman Goose to cover the largest fish processing plant in North America in the Aleutian Island community of Akutan.

How do you look back over that short list of things done and not appreciate the diametrically different blessings of dreams and reality.

My greater point here is that when you start out to do a thing, you often do it differently than you intended. It may look nothing like you intended, in fact, but it is a thing.

I suppose at this point I should probably get around to saving journalism.

Or maybe I’ll just read more Hunter S. Thompson and G.K. Chesterton.

T

The Village of Allakaket at 50 degrees below zero

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