Let me tell you a bit about community reporting.
You’re never off-duty. Not evenings, not weekends, never even in your own home where Facebook and radio keep you connected to your neighbours and all the latest happenings.
You’re only really off the clock if you leave the coverage area entirely, and even then you’re only TRULY off duty if you turn off the radio, disconnect from social media, and maybe discard all the pens and paper from your purse and disable the camera function on your phone. Then find that magic “off” switch for your brain. Only then are you truly off duty.
Because in community news, there is no night shift of workers coming in to catch the press releases and stay on top of the RCMP beat. It’s you (and two or three colleagues) or nothing.
So even when you’re off, you’ve got one ear to the ground and a camera at the ready for breaking news, cute kids on bikes, or unusual Christmas decorations.
Then there are car accidents, house fires and mass layoffs with devastating economic spinoffs.
All these things take community reporters away from our families, at any time of day. We might sigh that they cut into our “off” hours and affect our personal life, but a small part of us – of me, and probably of most reporters – is thrilled to be first on the scene, the one with breaking news by whatever fortuitous chance that had us in the right place at the right time.
But then… there are times you hear about something so terrible, you can only breathe a sigh of relief and think, “I’m so glad I don’t have to cover that.”
Like this afternoon.
This afternoon, a 41-year-old man died after being run over by a float in a Santa Claus parade. It didn’t happen near me, or in any one of the 99 towns I routinely cover. And so while I am horrified by the chain of events, I am also relieved this is one story I don’t need to drop everything for.
It’s just so absurd. The makings of a horror Christmas film, the punch line in a terrible, terrible joke.
While I’m thinking of that man’s family, his friends on the float, the driver of the truck that ultimately ran him over… I’m also thinking of my colleagues at that community newspaper who have to go ask questions, take photos, ply answers from bystanders and police. Because this is one story nobody wants to have to write at all.