Every journalist gets into the business because he likes answering questions of one kind or another. Who’s moving the money behind the scenes? What color was the getaway car? When was the last time the budget was short? Where, exactly, does the water end up? Good reporters answer a lot of questions, but the essence of the job is to accumulate facts so other people can pin them down. Your professional credibility involves a dispassionate presentation of events. You are an observer, not a detective. So while from the outside the job looks like interviewing people and telling their stories, from the inside, it feels more like baking the bricks that build the truth or driving a herd of facts from the pen to the page.
When I was a teenager, a journalist colleague of my mother’s and a close family friend sent me a gift, a novel with the inscription “Nonfiction tells you what happened; fiction tells the truth.” A decade later, the same friend told me I’d never regret becoming a small town reporter, citing his own experience as a 19-year-old cub at the Bulawayo Chronicle, and on that recommendation I headed for the Northwoods for my first full-time newspaper gig.
This year, for my son’s first Christmas, he sent a note from his home in Wales, reminding me to read Dylan Thomas to my boy, citing in particular the passage in A Child’s Christmas in Wales that concerns gifts, aunts, and wasps: “…and once I had a little crocheted nose bag from an aunt now, alas, no longer whinnying with us. And pictureless books in which small boys, though warned with quotations not to, would skate on Farmer Giles’ pond and did and drowned; and books that told me everything about the wasp, except why.”
At our little weekly newspaper, we try very hard to get the facts right, and we also try to tell a wide range of stories that reflect a more holistic picture of our community than the public record normally provides. This week’s feature is the sum of a year’s work, our version of everything about the wasp, except why.