Seven Years in Journalism

I’m twenty-one years old when I first hear the sound of a human being wailing in horror. Situated outside of the scene of a triple homicide, I’m an intern at a Boston based news network, doing my best to pretend that I have the savvy necessary to cut it as a big time journalist – that is, I want to be Lisa Ling more than I want ANYTHING ELSE in this life. So, in an effort to compile a demo reel that I can send to potential employers with the hope of eventually getting hired, I tag along with an experienced crew of media professionals to put together “packages” (that’s news-geek lingo for stories) and then track my content back at the station thereafter. Thus far, I’ve covered topics like airport congestion and Earth Day, so when I’m urgently summoned to a breaking news scene on what appears to be a rudimentary enough Saturday afternoon, I have no idea what to expect.

In a suburb just outside of Boston, my team and I are among the first group of journalists to arrive and set up camp. Standing outside of a yellow taped off area in the dead of winter, we’re curious about what’s going on, of course, but we have no real concept of the carnage that’s unraveling less than about a hundred feet away from us. Later, we learn that, without warning, a twenty-three year old man stabbed two of his younger sisters to death, decapitating the youngest – a five-year-old baby — on her birthday. Police shoot and kill him before he’s able to take the life of his nine-year-old sister, as well. From my vantage point, I don’t see the parents rush home in a quest to discover the extent to which this futility has ravaged their world, but I hear a low bellied shrill emanating from somewhere within the mother’s being, causing me to turn my body towards her just as she collapses to the ground. Her scream denotes an agonizing mix of the rawest form of human emotion that I’ve ever borne witness to — a distinctly horrifying blend of anguish and dread. Although she’s immediately taken out of our vicinity and brought to an ambulance for medical attention, I continue to hear her primal torment reverberating like a terrible tortured backdrop for hours into the night. That was seven years ago, and I still vividly recall the poignancy of her shrills today; within them, I inherently recognize what the definition of intensive human suffering is.

Last Friday, I opt to take the day off. After a nonstop week of shoots, IT, and paperwork, I’m decidedly excited to treat myself to a long weekend with my fiancé. As we prepare to leave for dinner in the evening, I pass the living room TV and see – impossibly, unbelievably — that Paris is under massive attack. Shock. Dread. Horror. Disbelief. Together, my fiancé and I stare at the screen in front of us, messaging our friends in the City of Lights and attempting to understand the reality of what’s transpiring. I’m utterly devastated at the thought of such an idyllic, innocent and magical place undergoing any measure of horror – let alone a literal massacre of this magnitude. That said, when I choose to post a photo of the Eiffel Tower on social media and encourage people to pray for Paris, I receive feedback concerning the fact that we aren’t also being urged to pray for Beirut, Russia, Kenya, and Baghdad – as well as the sites of several other atrocities that have unfolded across the globe.

Upon reading the sentiments of many of my followers, I too, come to understand the conundrum that they’re justly grappling with. While no one would ever seek to diminish the extent of the devastation occurring in France (that would be ignorant and disgusting), it’s important to acknowledge to myself that I wasn’t even aware of the catastrophes happening elsewhere across the world. Of course, we all have a personal responsibility to educate ourselves on global affairs, but I can’t help but wonder how much of the distinct lack of coverage can be attributed to the media as a series of grand scale institutions, as well.

Here’s the thing: years after my stint as an intern at the news station in Boston, I move to New York and acquire that needle in a haystack position that I was so fervently seeking in the first place. At twenty-five, I’m producing and reporting content, much of which airs on MSNBC. It’s my chance, I think. I’ve made it to the majors. (Btw, this is the only time that you’ll witness me use a sports reference in anything that I write — ever). Committing myself to my work in a way that I never have before, I learn what it really means to shoot for four consecutive twenty hour days while on location, to willingly put my personal safety at risk in order to slip undercover in a series of cities south of the border (Box of cigs? Nope. That’s actually a covert camera being used to expose pedophiles on tape), to gently interview tiny survivors about a plethora of focuses so vile that they literally have the aptitude to bring grown men in the room to tears, to have my passport seized by a barrage of corrupt foreign police officers at 2am while being detained in a city that I can barely pronounce (let alone send out an SOS from) because of its insanely remote locale, etc.

And, truth be told, I can assure you that all of this feels entirely worth it if it means that you’ll be given an opportunity to spotlight a cause that you’re deeply passionate about and that will decidedly be advanced by receiving the national news coverage that it so rightly deserves. But what happens when you get all of the footage required to do justice to the piece, fly back to New York, spend countless hours in an edit station cutting it — and then the network — after giving it heaps of praise, unilaterally decides, without explanation, never to air it at all? What do you tell all of the survivors who were brave enough to come forward and share their stories with you in a quest to end such a ghastly epidemic? How do you explain something to them that you, yourself, can’t even understand?

I’m not being didactic or strident in suggesting that governments and grand scale media institutions alone mustn’t be the answer to our problems. But I do believe that all of us have some measure of personal power with respect to what happens to our world. It’s vital to be cognizant of the fact that regardless of race, religion, gender, ethnicity, or class, we inhabit one collective home – that is, Earth. And yes, evil is unquestionably everywhere; it’s in Paris, Beirut, Kenya, Baghdad, an upscale suburb just outside of Boston on a Saturday afternoon, in the pedophiles who travel from all over the world to take advantage of vulnerable/disadvantaged children from third world nations, etc. One of the most commonly used phrases of jihadis is “we love death more than you love life.” In order to combat this devastation, then, we must love and appreciate life in a way that we never have before. Often times, when tragedies occur, we exhibit our best behavior for a couple of months thereafter. But what I’m suggesting is a process of immersion, whereby we take advantage of the fact that we’re all united in our grief right now and use it to come together — accepting one another more, exhibiting kindness to those who we encounter on a daily basis, and actively seeking to find the beauty in all of our moments.

It was with a heavy a heart that I initially thought about putting up a post subsequent to Paris. But if I didn’t continue forward, appreciating my life and creating the best level of creativity that I could, then the majority of this entry would equate to nothing more than hypocrisy. So today, I’m sending you love and healing, and I’m encouraging all of us, through a process of immersion, to allow these tragedies to catalyze us to a stronger place of every day beauty.

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