By KATE COIL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Being a reporter encompasses a lot of things, but anyone in journalism will tell you reporting is most definitely not just another desk job.
I knew pretty early on that I didn’t want a typical job when I entered into the big, scary “real world” my parents, teachers and school counselors were always harping about. My parents are both big fans of the comic strip “Dilbert” and after getting through the first book of collected cartoons myself, I pretty much decided I didn’t want to work one of those nine-to-five jobs where I would be confined to a cubicle. I am sure “Dilbert” over-exaggerates the general malaise of working from 40 to 60 hours a week in a cubicle, but it still seemed unpleasant to me, something akin to working in a box with no privacy.
One of the things I enjoy most about reporting is that I get to travel. It’s not trips across the world in first-class seats on the airline like the movies would have you believe, but I get to see a lot of the two Virginias many people who have lived here all their lives haven’t yet experienced.
This past week, I found myself traveling to both Welch and Tazewell, Va., in the same day. There have been other instances where I have spent my morning in Bramwell and my afternoon in Giles County or occasions where I covered a story in Bluefield, Va., before heading up to an event in Athens. My mileage sheet might not be as long or varied as our photographers, but I sometimes am amazed by how far I have traveled during a month on the job.
When I come in, I never know if I’m going to be in the office all day or get a last-minute assignment in some far-flung corner of our coverage area. Some mornings, I have come in with only enough time to set down my bag before being sent out into the field. I have even gotten the call before I’ve unlocked my car to drive to work that I am needed in some place or another to cover an important story for the day.
True, we all have desks, but being a reporter is anything but a desk job. You can only sit around making phone calls and hoping people will return your messages for so long. Being out in the field is not only something reporters thrive on, but being able to experience the sights, smells, conversation and sensations of a scene often helps create a much better story.
You also get to meet a wide variety of people while out in the field. I honestly never know who I am going to come across in my day-to-day work. It’s very unique to be able to hear the perspectives of local, state and federal leaders as well as people from the community who are just doing their best to get by. We get to see such a wide spectrum of humanity and so many different people with different backgrounds.
Of course, we don’t always venture forth from the office to cover natural disasters, car wrecks or homicides. Often times, leaving the office is going to a meeting, covering events like spelling bees or conventions, and even just meeting with sources. People are often most comfortable on their own turf and have an easier time talking with a reporter in their own homes or offices.
I love going to meet people in their homes, studios, offices and workplaces for our weekly TeleScope features since it gives me a deeper look at what makes them an interesting person. It is a little like being behind the scenes, finding what makes a person tick and what they find most interesting about what they do. Often times, an interesting item in a home or office provides a neat little anecdote about the person’s life and can even set off a new side to the overall story.
As a reporter, talking with individuals in their own surroundings benefits me, too, as I get a closer glimpse into their lives and what is important to them. I always find it interesting what other people have on their desks, for example.
Pictures of children and pets are common, but interesting knickknacks, pictures and other items really draw me in. You can find out a lot about a person and what is really important to them by what they have on their desk. In some ways, our desks are our homes away from home.
Looking around our own office, you could probably guess whose desk is whose based on what items they have there. You can tell who roots for which sports team, what people’s hobbies outside the office are, and if they are generally disorganized or a bit of a neat freak.
There are some days I would much rather just sit at my desk, and even a few moments in which I feel tempted to crawl under my desk and hide, but most of the time getting out of the office is a nice break in the routine of ringing phones and waiting for something interesting and newsworthy to break.
Kate Coil is a reporter at the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.