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On Journalism & How Things Are Complicated

Tonight I planned to write a piece inspired by a podcast I listened to this evening, with a non-fiction writer interviewed on the Longform Podcast (HT the wonderful Sabrina Hersi Issa for recommending it). In the interview, the writer spoke of how long it took for her to face that the intensity of the stories of people she was interviewing had an impact on her personal life and own mental health. Journalists are supposed to be tough; they’re supposed to keep going. They can report on people experiencing difficult circumstances but aren’t supposed to be affected by them.

Listening to the podcast got me reflecting on my own experiences as a young journalist, and how very much I was affected by the stories of the people I met through my reporting experiences. It took me a long time to fully recognize it, because I too felt that it was my job to listen and amplify their stories, but I was resistant to admitting that hearing difficult stories might take a toll on me. I could identify so many things I learned from my interviewees, from homeless children living on the streets of Moscow to refugee families fleeing horrible civil war in Burma/Myanmar. I recognized my own privilege alongside their pain, but it took me longer to realize that the very thing that made me a good reporter – my ability to empathize and connect with people – also meant that, in a real way, I experienced just a little bit of the pain that they had experienced. And, over the course of many years of working with people who had experienced intense human rights abuses, this added up.

I had planned to write about this, but then I did some further research on the journalist who was interviewed for the podcast, and realized that her story is more complicated, too. And I realized that to do justice to such a thorny, delicate subject will take more time, more thoughtfulness, and more fact-checking before I can write what I would like to write.

And so I am writing this, which feels incomplete, but also a testament to what I am learning from forcing myself to write something to be published every single day. It’s partially a recognition of limits – I have other work to do and I can only devote so much time and space to this – and also that yes, some things are complicated, and are not easily wrapped up in a short amount of space and tied up with a bit of string. Some things call for disentangling rather than tying together. And yet the universe is vast and beautiful, and tomorrow the sun will rise once more.

This is post 20/31 in the Moon Cycle Project.

Tonight’s moon status: Waning gibbous, 84.1% illuminated.

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Filed under: Moon Cycle

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A traveler, a listener, a gleaner of stories.

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