Monday, June 22, 2009

Ester and Murray

My parents invited the relatives over for Father's Day, so I drove to Palm Harbor to pick up my grandparents. I was in their kitchen when I looked out of the window and saw a butterfly flying around the garden. When I see a butterfly, I think of one person.

Giulia Lewis was my best friend growing up. On November 5, 2003, she passed away. She was 15-years-old.

Working as a reporter, I see articles like this one all the time. Many of us experience the initial heavy-heart, showing our coworker the police report with a check in the "fatal" box. You think of the parents who lost their five-year-old son. They were just trying to keep him safe by putting him inside the boat's cabin. They never thought the boat would capsize, their son drown. A producers voice, a phone ringing, the realization that you're live in ten minutes; the newsroom snaps you back into reality before you can think any deeper. Your emotions cannot stop you from performing, from doing your job. You're a reporter.

But I know these articles and police reports aren't just pieces of paper with facts to include in the VO. I know the pain and suffering behind the words. At 14 years old, I saw my friend in a coffin. An experience that has changed my life. I saw how one death can affect the living. The parents who lost their only child. The aunts and uncles who lost their niece. The best friend who lost her sister.

"There is an old school of professional journalistic thought that reporters must adhere at all times to the appearance of detachment. We must eschew any activity or association that might reveal or even signal a bias, for that might undercut the credibility of our reporting," (found this in my notes, most likely the words of a professor).

Basically we cannot act like real people. So many times I see reporters who tell a story like Giulia's without a glimmer of emotion. They don't seem to have souls. I understand we must be "detached" as journalists, and I'm not saying we should shed tears during our stand-ups, but we must show that we're human. Viewers need to know they can relate to us, trust us. A reporter without emotion or caring is not much of a reporter in my book. You must have a heart. You must have compassion.

Not many understand the great power a journalist holds. Look at Robert Woodward and Carl Bernstein, two reporters working for The Washington Post who discovered and published the information that led to the resignation of Nixon. Woodward and Bernstein spent countless hours investigating leads and news tips, looking at documents and interviewing people, and it wasn't for their health. It was to help the people-ultimately the American people. That's our job as journalists. To help others. Robots aren't reading our articles and watching our newscasts. People are.

After seeing the butterfly in my grandparents garden, I decided to call Ester and Murray Lewis, Giulia's grandparents. Over the years Giulia's grandma Ester and I have kept in touch. We write often and I send her pictures and update her on my adventures reporting.

Grandpa Murray just celebrated his 90th birthday on May 6th. The last time I spoke with him was at Giulia's funeral, six years ago. Yesterday Ester put him on the phone, so I can wish him a happy Father's Day. I was afraid he wouldn't remember me, but to my surprise he screamed "Kristin!" right when he got on the phone. He went on to say how happy he was that I've stayed in his and Ester's life. He started crying, and said "I love you Kristin, you're my granddaughter." Of course I broke down, and we both talked about life, crying and laughing at the many memories we shared.

I guess what I learned this Father's Day is not to be afraid of changing, of showing your emotion and your heart. It can do so much good for others. Us journalists need to understand the power that lies in our hands. We have the ability to change the world, to help countless people. One newspaper article, one police report, one story, one phone call can change a life. Not just the viewers or readers, but your own.

Giulia and I

My grandfather (Papoo in Greek), my brother Peter and I
Father's Day

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