Letters To The Editor For January 3rd

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How Society Supports Low-Paying Writing Jobs

Angie,

Happy New Year to you and yours, too!

This hit home: So the next time you hear a young person say they want to be a writer someday, don’t tell them there’s no money to be made that way. They might believe you.

I’ve heard it, and I’ve believed. I first experienced it in my youth, and it’s still happening because the words of my most-harsh critic (yes, it’s family) are still there, sometimes undermining my drive and self-confidence, and louder than voices of my supporters.

What didn’t help along the way was the “confirmation” for this negative attitude I once got from a newspaper editor who offered me the same $25 per story a few years ago that I’d been offered about ten years earlier!

If writing’s what we’ve “got” to do, we do it anyway, whatever form it takes.

Until I work my way up to New York Times quality and substance or turn out a book, though, I’m sticking to my guns of not giving up my day job as I write.

Mariam

Ethics vs. Profits

Dear Angela:

You bring up a thoughtful, serious and troubling issue in your comments about writing on events and issues which can result in a grave hurt to the innocent. It’s an issue which most news reporters encounter often, particularly if they have the police beat.

Too often in my career as a journalist, I had to talk to someone whose wife, husband, lover, sister, brother, or child had just been killed in a car, plane or motorcycle accident or been drowned or killed horribly in a fire or some other tragedy. It is a heavy task.

I once was assigned to cover the wake for a 6-year-old girl who had been raped and then killed with a rock by a 13-year-old neighbor boy. The editor placed me there to record the scene and conversations should the boys parents come to offer their condolences. I am an intruder on private griefs and my painful vigil proves fruitless because the boys family never shows up.

I feel the same reluctance going to the home of a young police officer and asking him politely to recount the details of how he accidentally killed his three-year-old daughter by backing his car over her in the driveway where my car is now parked. He sits and quietly and apologetically describes his part in the tragedy. It is as though I am his confessor and he can have absolution by telling me the story.

I am continually surprised by the willingness of people to talk about great misfortune, even when they themselves caused it. They described what happened in detail. They, the accidental, regretful perpetrators of serious tragedies, the living victims, the survivors of plane crashes, house fires, tornadoes, floods, boating accidents, rapes, shootings, you name it. They were anxious to talk away their griefs, sorrows and guilt as though their words would erase the reality of the dreadful thing that had happened, not realizing how those words would sound on the air or appear in the paper. They were not politicians or spin doctors. They didn’t have the proper words to sway the public in their favor, or know what not to say to a reporter. They are the innocents. They did not choose or ever expect to see their likeness on a television screen or in a newspaper, or their names broadcast over the air or appear in 30 point type. I felt I was an intruder on their private sorrows, but they did not treat me as one.

Much of this is recorded in my book, I Never Looked for My Mother and Other Regrets of a Journalist.

In most of these circumstances, a journalist has no choice if he wishes to keep his job but to go to the scene and record what has happened in the hallowed interest of informing the public. But does the public need to know every detail of a crime or an accident, if it causes great hurt to the victims? I don’t believe so. There are things that will cause no harm to the reader or the nation, or the community if they are left unwritten.

Joe Ritz