Reporter no more

By Elizabeth Prata

When I was writing for the local paper and the Athens Banner Herald some years ago, I’d developed a following of people who enjoyed my column and my features articles. Someone asked me if I was planning to go back to reporting. I said it was a negative business and I wanted to get out. Over the 6 1/2 years of running a small-town weekly paper, I had to learn and know things that I normally would never have wanted to know, the dirtiness, dishonesty, things about peoples’ lives, government sausage making. It takes a toll on one’s spirit.

I was so looking forward to my last day of work, August 9, 2006. The company that had bought my paper had already closed my local office and I had been commuting 10 miles to my new office, shared with the editor of one of the other newspapers they own. I was not fond of the commute, parts of it were dangerous. It was early, 5:30 a.m., on my last day as I hopped in the car and took off into the fog.

I came upon a crash scene. Dawn revealed the tragedy. Officials were diverting traffic, which a normal person would be happy to go around but I was a reporter, if for 8 more hours. I told the Officer that I was a journalist and I needed to get some shots. He waved me ahead and told me to stay 200 feet away from the workers. “It’s a bad one,” he said.

Two television channels were already shooting video. I had to jockey for position. At 4:30 a.m. conditions had been foggy, the tv guys told me, and an 18 year old girl had been zooming to work. She lost control of her small car, it skidded on the dew drenched road, flew, flipped then wrapped around a tree 100 feet into the woods. She was thrown from the vehicle and killed instantly. Rescue had a very hard time extracting the nearly disintegrated car and a very hard time extracting her from the woods.

EPrata photo

We stood around for an hour, the TV guys and me, waiting for the shots we knew we had to get. The white sheeted body being pulled from the trees, stretcher being loaded into the ambulance, close ups of the wreckage. The car was so shattered there was nothing for the tow truck to hook onto and it took a long time to find some solid metal to hook onto. It was boring so when it got close to when things emerged from the woods, we couldn’t help but get agitated. We scuttled forward, trying to get the money shot. I hated this part.

The whole time I kept thinking about the morning’s quietude, how the girl was probably singing and driving and planning about her day. And how suddenly her life was gone, and all that was left was a crushed car and three media journalists trying to get a shot that would represent her last moments by a bloody sheet and a hanging fender. My final shot was of long strands of grass hanging off the inside mangled wheel well as it was slowly winched on the truck bed. I left then.

When I got to the office the other editor had heard the scanner and was about to send someone out. I told him I got the whole thing already, including shots and quotes. He’s ghoulish and kind of likes car crashes. He likes them better if someone dies. He jumped up and pumped his hand in the air. “Yes! That’s great!” He looked at me sideways, and asked “Do you want to call the family?” We had to get a quote from them. I looked hard at the guy and I said “I’ve gone almost 7 years without having to make the call to a grieving family and I really don’t want to go out with one on my last day.”

Things like this affected me too much, but equally I was afraid of the day that they wouldn’t affect me, that I’d become like that other editor where a death of a human being represented newspaper sales.

I had recently been saved by the grace of God and my worldview had shifted. I thought about the brevity of life. She was most likely a Muslim, her family was from Iran and barely spoke English. Though I’d thought about the brevity of life prior to being saved, it was always an occasion either for puzzlement (where do we go after we die?) or an inescapable mystery founded on the fact that we all die and I will too. My thoughts usually ended there, with a shudder and a firm mental push of that thought away from me.

But now that I know that I know my eternal destination, it is both a comfort knowing my end will be bliss, but also a grief that many others won’t be.

Life is short. We must be about our Father’s business.

Behold, You have made my days as handbreadths,
And my lifetime as nothing before You;
Surely every man, even standing firm, is altogether vanity. Selah.
(Psalm 39:5)

I’m glad the Lord gave me employment with children, a much more positive and soul-warming thing that reporting in misdeeds, tragedies, and negative news.

The cycle of news is endless because sin is endless. Thefts, murders, malfeasance, corrupt officials, tsunamis, hurricanes, fires, abductions, the list goes on and on. It’s important to cover the news, yes, let people know what is going on in fair and balanced fashion. But I was glad to step out. What a glory to know that there will come a day we will not need newspaper reporters because there will be no sin, no tragedy, no death. “Obituary writer” will be a thing of the past.

For people nowadays who cry out “Why is the news always negative? How about some good news once in a while?” the Day will come when we will only speak of the excellencies of Christ. His GOOD NEWS, and the wonder of His justified Bride. What a day that will be.

Further Resources

The Brevity of Life…A Call to Improve It, Sermon 6 – by Andrew Gray (1634-1656) (Puritan who died young, having had a three-year ministry).

James Smith, “The Time is Short!” 1860

Thomas Watson: Time’s Shortne)ss (A sermon preached July 2, 1676, at the funeral of Pastor John Wells).

The Brevity of Life– sermon by Alistair Begg, audio and transcript

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