By JAMIE PARSELL
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Exciting. Interesting. Those are the two words most people use to describe my job at the Daily Telegraph. Most of the time it is, but there are sad moments woven into the mixture of news and facts. We don’t always talk about those brief moments of sadness. We are journalists, protectors of free speech and aware of the people’s need to know. Yet, there is another side to the career that brings about those moments of sadness. Sometimes journalists are modern-day story tellers. I have discovered this role leaves a writer exposed and vulnerable. There is no protection behind the facts. I am talking about the human interest story, life on paper.
Throughout my career, the human interest story has always been a favorite. I enjoy telling the stories of people from around our area. It has been a blessing to meet so many people from all different walks of life. From chefs to country music stars to female coal miners, I have collected stories from all over the two Virginias. Those have been the easy, carefree stories of my career. They don’t keep me up at night. It is the stories about cancer patients, grieving friends and miracle babies that result in sleepless nights. This week, one of the women I interviewed for the Bluefield Daily Telegraph’s 2012 Pride edition passed away after a long battle with cancer. We had nothing in common except mutual friends and words from one story in the Telegraph and a second feature in our women’s magazine Prerogative. I will never forget the day she walked into the newsroom with three cheesecakes. The news of her death brought her words back to life. There is an unexplainable bond between a writer and the person being interviewed for a story. I feel the responsibility of their words. There is an understanding of trust in the exchange of information. I take down notes and piece together a story in my mind. Sometimes, especially after a heartfelt interview, I pray for guidance. I want my words to become their words. I simply own the byline.
I don’t know if I really understood the responsibility of a writer when I was in college. I was working for the college newspaper and writing about organizations and events across the Bluefield College campus. It was fun and carefree, as was much of my time in college. I am not sure when I crossed from carefree to serious. Most people would assume a breaking news story — a murder, robbery or an election year— would cause the shift. True, those first few high-profile news stories made an impact. I felt responsible to report the facts. Even after five years of reporting, I still feel that way about A-1 news stories. Yet, the human interest stories weighs more heavily on my heart. I want to share their story with the rest of the world. I will never know everything, or how they feel at that very second, facing uncertainties and heartache. But for 30 minutes or more, I am given a brief glimpse.
Years, months and days after a story appears in the Daily Telegraph or Prerogative magazine, I still hold a connection to the people I have interviewed for stories. I give credit to the rural atmosphere in our area; we are not afraid to talk and greet one another. I smile, wave and chat in the local grocery store. I see their family and friends at the fitness center and at church. I receive emails and social media messages from time to time. It is not a friendship, but a bond between the writer and subject. When the connection is broken, I am sad, but honored at the same time. I am glad to have been the person who put their hopes, joy and fears into words.
Today’s news will be forgotten tomorrow. Headlines will change as the latest news rises to the top. Perhaps that is why I like human interest stories so much. Folks cut them out of the paper, stick them on the fridge and fold them up in scrapbooks for future generations. And we can read those words again and again in two days, two months or two years. They are the hardest yet most rewarding stories I have ever told on paper.
Jamie Parsell is the Lifestyle editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact her at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @BDTParsell.