One of the things I love about being a reporter is you never really can predict what you'll be doing from day to day. The moment you think you've got your week nicely planned out, bam! Fire! Earthquake! Murder! There goes that feature you were going to write.
Case in point, I showed up to work this morning worried about how light on story ideas I was. Then the natural gas plant across the river exploded. Instant story. Instead of spending the day in the office making phone calls to bureaucrats I spent the day running between the newsroom and evacuee camp, checking in on the family whose journey I was documenting and getting updates from the public information officer.
Of course, I wasn't the only reporter there. Every news station around was there, plus radio and newspapers and the AP. Jostling for position during press conferences always reminds me of my internship in New York, where just about everything I covered involved a scrum of reporters shouting questions over the click of cameras. You know how in the movies the lawyer comes out of the courthouse or the disgraced CEO rushes from the building to his limo and there are a million reporters shoving cameras and microphones in his face? Yeah, it really is exactly like that if you have the misfortune of getting your 15 minutes of infamy in the media capital of the world. And now you know that's called a scrum.
I haven't seen that many cameras since I spent a week covering the heck out of the wildfire outside The Dalles this summer. Of course, the gas plant evacuee camp was a little more convenient to cover than the wildfire. It didn't involve having to borrow ugly yellow fireproof clothing from the command center that only comes in large man size (in all fairness, I was the only female journalist there out of about 20 anchors/photogs/cameramen/reporters. But still. I can't be the only woman to have ever shown up to cover a wildfire). They never let us get close enough to the fire to need fireproofing, but the color sure did attract the swarms of wasps that had been displaced by the fire. It's hard to concentrate on taking photos when you've got yellow jackets crawling all over you.
When I was at the evacuee camp today I eavesdropped on an adorable conversation between several of the little kids in the camp. It went something like this:
"I've been on two different TV stations today."
"Oh yeah, well I've been on the TV and the radio!"
"Three reporters interviewed me!"
And then the older ones shared tips with the younger ones about making sure they knew how to spell their name for the reporter and to tell him or her how old they are. One of the kids told me it was the best spring break he's ever had. I love how excited little kids get over being interviewed, or even just seeing a reporter walking by with a camera and notebook. I've had a child shout "Look, a paparazzi!" and point at me more than once when doing a story at an elementary school. Sorry kid, but unless Honey Boo Boo transfers your school you're not going to run into a real paparazzo any time soon.
I think the closest I ever came to being a legitimate paparazzo was during my turn at the New York Daily News. Most of my fellow interns had much more exciting celebrity encounters than I did, but they did send me to Spike Lee's house, where I spoke to his wife and gave her a note for him to call my editor, which he did. I spoke to Chita Rivera and Dionne Warwick at Lena Horne's funeral. And if politicians count as celebrities, I ambushed Mayor Bloomberg at Coney Island, Charlie Rangel at and elementary school and Raymond Kelly at a park dedication. Also, one time I arrived at a stakeout only to be informed by the photographer that Hugh Jackman had walked by just five minutes before. New York was, to say the least, a whole lot of life experience crammed into two months.
Small-town reporting is usually a little less exciting. Until the next crisis hits.