Bucks County Herald

Kathryn Finegan Clark: By the Way

The messenger lives

When I walked through the door of the first newspaper I worked for decades ago, I never expected to become a member of an endangered species, accused of producing fake news. I never expected to be among those people a president calls “horrendous.” But I see now that I am – and I am angry.

My goal then was simply to write – and to have somebody pay me to do that so I could claim independence.

In my mind I had everything to offer – a solid family background, a college degree, a glowing recommendation from a writing professor who thought I had talent and a dream. I didn’t exactly match what the industry wanted – I was a female. I had no experience, no journalism degree – just what an editor called “a diploma from a fancy college.” I heard that a couple times during my interview, a first exposure to journalistic cynicism; nevertheless, he hired me.

And I found myself seated at a desk with a typewriter, a telephone and a notebook in what was then (in the dark ages) the society department of a daily newspaper. The only “real” reporters were males. I didn’t care then. I just wanted to write and I didn’t care about what.

And write I did – weddings and showers (bridal and baby), family reunions, food and fashions, fluff. But I began to care about what I wrote. I wanted to do what the guys were writing. I wanted to make a difference.

After honing my typing and interviewing skills I was off and running on a frenzied news career far removed from the little society department that chronicled what was the softer side of life in those days.

It’s been a fun-filled, sometimes fearful, sometimes tearful race against a deadline as both reporter and editor. But it has always been the story-telling that mattered most, writing about special people, achievers and not; some with shattered aspirations; some with sad stories, some with glad; people facing tragedy, fires, floods, accidental deaths, murders, family suicides, some in handcuffs and some wearing badges.

I cried when I left my office a week before my daughter was born. That’s what women were expected to do in those days, even though I stayed as long as I could, but by the time my son was born a few years later I was already freelancing, baby oil and diapers at the ready.

I found a job at another newspaper, this time as a beat reporter, an equal to the males on staff. This job, and the years I worked as an editor, were the big eye-openers – seeing the way government worked and didn’t work, watching elected officials, honest and not, some wanting to help the community, others with their own agendas. I followed money trails, covered police (local, when we had them), and state, and discovered the men behind the badges, even in these small boroughs and townships were both good and bad. I worked hard to be as good as, sometimes better than, the guys. It was work I loved and I was proud to call myself a journalist.

And all the time, I believed what I was doing had merit. I still believe that. It needed to be done. It was never easy. Separating fact from fiction can be difficult. Criticism was brutal – especially so, when I cut too close to the truth – and so were threats. At least three times I took them seriously enough to report to police.

My young children, too, were targeted. Once I had to have a serious talk with them, making sure they understood why this was happening and why I had to continue telling the truth despite the people who didn’t want to hear that truth, the ones maligning me and our family. The kids had the courage to cheer me on.

And during all those years I shared this way of life with reporters in every town and city in the country who also thought their jobs had merit, honest, hard-working men and women who believed those who dined at the public trough needed watching, who believed tough stories needed to be told, who honored truthfulness and never gave up their quests. We wouldn’t have had to lie, even if we wanted to. The truth was usually raw enough.

Then, came computers, ultimately changing the nature of the print business, blue screens, silent keyboards replacing the clatter of typewriters in a shrinking workplace, but still not touching nor even cooling the heat of the spirit, the vitality, the soul of the newsroom.

Now, we journalists are under siege by an insidious enemy. And we see unfolding the same ancient tale of the king killing the messenger who brings the bad news. We are decried for writing stories that are perceived and portrayed as fake news by people who cannot handle the truth. I can’t say it doesn’t hurt, but I can say it will not stop any of us.

Journalist/novelist George Orwell once wrote, “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”

And I, and journalists like me, are here to say, “The messenger lives.”



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