Being a journalist, telling stories so often means asking people to let us into the hardest, most intimate parts of their lives.
Reporters call people after they’ve lost a loved one, or when they’re dealing with something else awful, with disease or accident or injustice.
Making those phone calls, asking if someone will talk to me in the midst of a tragedy, is the hardest thing I do in my job. I know the people on the other end of the phone are doing something much harder.
The thing that gets me to pick up the phone and dial is that nine times out of 10, in my experience, people are actually glad someone has called and asked them to share their story. If they’ve lost a friend or relative, they are usually happy someone wants to know more about that person and gratified the public will be able to read about that life. If they’re suffering through some hardship, they want the world to know about it in the hopes the systemic things that led to that hardship can be addressed. Not everyone wants to talk, and in those cases I apologize and offer best wishes. But most of the time, no matter how nervous I was to call, I’m glad I did.
One family that has let me and photographer Liz Martin into their lives as they’ve gone through incredible hardship over the last four years has been Laura and Darin Adams, who now live in Waterloo. I will never forget meeting Darin when his wife, Laura, was a patient at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, fighting to survive from rare complications after giving birth to their daughter, Josie, in December 2015.
Over the next months, Laura and Darin let us see their family at its hardest point. A year later, they and Laura’s parents invited us back, and this fall they welcomed us into their lives yet again, as Laura still struggles to heal and rebuild her life.
We spent time with Laura in Des Moines and Cedar Falls over the last month and published the latest installment in her story on Thanksgiving. Being trusted to share her story with The Gazette’s readers has been one of the privileges of my career as a reporter.
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It’s why I do what I do. Laura said her goal was to give more visibility to disabled people and people with chronic pain, who are so often overlooked in our society. My aim as a reporter was to get out of the way and let her voice be heard.
My hope is that, by reading about lives and experiences of their neighbors, especially when those experiences are very different from their own, our readers will gain a deeper understanding of those experiences and those lives. Hopefully, that helps build empathy and compassion and respect. Hopefully, that gives a face to the statistics and the policy debates you see covered elsewhere in the news.
There are a lot of important reasons for journalism and newsrooms to exist in our modern world. My colleagues do important investigative work, shining light into the business of the government that is supposed to work for the people. We attend school board and city council meetings and Board of Regents meetings so you don’t have to.
And we tell stories. Stories of our neighbors, our community members, our fellow Iowans. I believe those stories are just as important as the rest of what we do. They give the hard news we write about context and meaning. They tell you not just what is happening, but why it matters.
So, this holiday season, the weekend after Thanksgiving, I wanted to say thank you. Thank you to all the people who have answered when we’ve called during the hard times, who have agreed to talk to us about their lives.
Your stories reach farther than you could know.
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