I’m fascinated with alligators.
Gators don’t worry. They take what the swamp gives them with slow confidence. They don’t bother you unless you mess with them, and why would you mess with a prehistoric creature wearing fangs? They don’t complain.
They have a thick skin.
While I lack the chops of an alligator, I find a thick skin comes in handy. It seems there are a great many people who have lost respect for my line of work, and aren’t afraid to tell you. Emphatically.
This past winter, I was stationed on an icy Cobb Parkway preparing to warn unknowing motorist of the slick hazards. A truck in bad need of a new muffler rolled by, driven by a man who was even louder than his faulty exhaust.
“Leave us alone you #@*% liberal commie.”
It’s not the first time I have been the target of drive-by insults, and it won’t be the last. Assumptions about my character based on my job confuses me a bit. It always has. I’d rather someone get to know me before deciding to dislike me.
There was actually a time when my profession wasn’t lumped together with carjackers and telemarketers. I remember the days when people viewed me as somewhat of an authority figure. It was a little weird. They felt an obligation to grant an interview, even when circumstance should have told them to steer clear. Now, it’s more likely I’ll find a lawyer, a pitbull, or a locked door standing between me and my quarry.
There are many who see journalists as biased. We have an agenda. Some of my own neighbors, even some members of my Sunday school class, believe journalists to be Godless, manipulative liars. Never referring to me specifically, they proclaim their displeasure with members of the dreaded media.
No one in my business is perfect. Some of us are hard to like. Many of us have inflated egos. Most are really good people trying to earn a living under circumstances that are often quite difficult and quite often downright depressing. That’s not a complaint or an excuse. That’s my job. I have seen death, grief, celebration, inspiration, confusion, anger, hatred, love, compassion…just about everything. It has molded me. It has helped make me who I am.
I’m willing to give you a glimpse into who I am so the next time you see me on television, you can render judgement based on my actual character rather something perceived.
I am a Christian. That means it is most important for me to love God and love others. All others. I often fail to do that. It doesn’t make me a hypocrite, it makes me human. I need forgiveness for the times I fail, so it is imperative that I extend grace to others. If I don’t forgive, that does make me a hypocrite.
I am a husband. I married my best friend, and I cherish my life with her. We were practically kids when we met. We’ve grown and changed a lot since then. She has put up with my weird hours and the second hand stress from my job. She deserves a Nobel Prize for tolerance. The longer we’re married, the more I appreciate her.
I am a father. I have three amazing children. My wife and I have tried very hard to let our children know how much we love them. Cady gave up her career to stay home and nurture them. I give her all the credit for raising three smart, compassionate children. We are very, very lucky.
I am a son. I lost my father to cancer, and the grief is still with me. He taught me the value of working hard and giving your best, and that stays with me, too. My mother taught me that adversity and pain can make you stronger and better. She’s faced challenges that would have toppled most people, and yet she’s 80-years-old and standing tall. My parents are a blessing to me.
I talk too much. I got in a lot of trouble during my formative years for opening my mouth when I should have kept it closed. Too often, I was loud and disruptive. There were teachers who tried, without much success, to stifle me. There were a few who channeled my verbal energy into something productive. From that, a career was born. I have grown to know the value of curbing your tongue, and I do struggle at times to control myself. I’m a work in progress. At the age of 57. Go figure.
Let me touch on the issue of bias. Journalists are biased. Of course we are. We are human beings. We are not automatons who lack feeling and emotion. We are shaped by our upbringing and experiences, just like you. Our job is to keep our bias from influencing our reporting. This can be tough. Take, for example, the issue of cancer. I’m a survivor. I lost my father to cancer. Now, ask me to report on the amount of money going toward cancer research, or the need for exams that might detect cancer. Clearly, I’m going to have a bias. Not everyone is going to view the issue the way I see it. My job, however, is to remain open minded. Hear all sides. Present all sides impartially. You try it. Try leaving your deep seeded emotions out of a conversation. That’s my job, and I take it quite seriously.
Here’s a little more insight into this particular journalist. I’m not going to try to claim I do everything just right. I can always do a better job. Always. I am open to hearing your critiques, criticisms, opinions, and recommendations. I may not share your opinion of my work, but I’d be foolish not to listen. You can even drive by and yell at me when I’m knee deep in snow. That’s fine. I prefer that you keep it clean, but that’s up to you. Whatever you say, I’ve likely heard it before.
This old alligator has been around a long time.