A Tale of Two Articles

Ever since I learned that you could make your living as a nonfiction writer, I wanted to be a newspaper reporter.

I had a few plum internships, my final one sending me to theĀ Florida Times-Union. The job was stressful and enjoyable, but two main articles stick in my mind seven years later.

The first is essentially the reason I left journalism.

Cause of death released for pair.

My metro editor deserves mad props for giving this story to a metro intern rather than one of the other three cops and courts reporters. Except that I didn’t really want to call a family to tell them their parents were buried alive. At all. Ever. Calling them was the biggest regret I have in my reporting career. My and my editor’s choices were questioned by the alternate weekly, and even by our conservative editorial board. As a human, I do not regret my choices. I can see how a journalist might disagree with me.

Earlier that month, I called L. Patrick Gray’s son to add to the AP’s obituary. L. Patrick Gray was in charge of the FBI during the Deep Throat scandal in 1972-73. Ed Gray called me back as I was leaving the Jacksonville Police Department, where I had just finished sifting through the police reports for the day. I sat in the lobby, a bit unprepared for his call. I asked him all the questions I usually asked for obituary stories, about his life, about their last times together, etc. I figured the AP would have all the Watergate and Deep Throat details. Plus, my knowledge of post-1920 history was woefully minimal (nice work, Stevenson High School), and I didn’t want to look like an idiot.

As our interview reached its end, I thanked Ed for his time and expressed my sympathies. Ed cleared his throat; he’d ostensibly been talking to reporters for the bulk of the day. “Thank you,” he said. “You know, you’re the first reporter I’ve talked to all day who has actually asked me about my father.”

Wow.

I’m glad I’m no longer a reporter, but I still love nonfiction. I hope you join me in 2012 for the Sibert Challenge. More information to come.