One of the 23 curse words running through my head escapes its poorly-constructed corral and gallops to my mouth and past my lips.
This year, I’ve been interning for the Marquette College of Communication’s O’Brien Fellowship in Public Service Journalism. The first half of the internship was research-heavy, as our team of four interns and O’Brien Fellow Miranda Spivack (a freelance journalist who formerly reported and edited for the Washington Post) combed through every open records and open meetings law in the country. With that done, we’re starting to report.
When I first heard about the government poisoning its citizens in Flint, I couldn’t believe something like it could be happening in America. How does a system that involves so many organizations and has so many safeguards fail to protect those in its care?
I knew my story’s angle could only attempt to answer one facet of this question, but as a (student) journalist, I felt it was my duty to try. So I researched, I pitched, I called big people who represented even bigger ideas. You know, the people who were profiled by the New York Times. The players in a national scandal. I waited and I called again.
Four exams and two papers later, I have made it through midterms week and can finally think only about Flint. I fly out tomorrow (better late than never, or so I tell myself). I survived half the semester and I’m sitting at home afraid to fall asleep for fear that I’ll miss my 8:30 a.m. flight. The fear in my head is loud and screaming. It reminds me of dollars invested in me by my university, phone calls never returned, cities never visited and an adventure unlike any other.
I have never done this before - just dropping into a city to talk to whoever will look my way. Murphy’s Law rattles around my head: Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Could I have tried harder to create a more structured trip for myself? Always. Can I go back in time? Never. So my fear and anxiety feeds off the uncontrollable – the person who I can’t force to speak with me, the city I can’t control with my gaze. I am horrified and honored that I’ve been trusted to do this on my own. I just don’t want to fail.
What is it that I’m feeling? Mortified? Pressured? Clueless? Proud?
All those feelings, swirling around, make me wonder why we do this to ourselves. Why do journalists pack their backpacks (one pair of jeans + two shirts = two outfits) and wander into the unknown? Why do we gravitate to where people are hurting and where they have been wronged? Why do we recklessly talk to complete strangers and ask pointed questions on our quest for the truth?
So, if I had to answer the question of why journalists do this, I would guess it is because of those voices in our heads. As scary as the loud ones are, yelling and warning us of failure, we somehow hone in on a quieter one. It whispers in our ear of atrocities and pain, of beauty and curiosity. It pulls us to untold stories. We know we can’t heal or share everything. We know people will criticize us when we try. But the voice tells us that if we don’t venture out, no one else will.
So, tomorrow, I’m venturing out. Here we go.
This site is my way of connecting you to the happenings of my journalistic adventures and the rest of my digital portfolio.