On listeners, viewers, and readers... and the woman I still want to hug

One of the things that’s so interesting about doing this type of work is interacting with listeners and viewers and readers – whether I actually meet them or they write or e-mail or call.

I remember a couple of phone calls I happened to take early on in my career, when I was working in TV news. It was during the 1988 presidential campaign when George Bush (the first one: George Herbert Walker Bush) and Michael Dukakis were running. I came off of the set after anchoring a newscast and the phone was ringing in the newsroom.

Being the only one in the newsroom at the moment, I grabbed the phone. It was a very angry viewer telling me that we were obviously pro-Bush, that you could tell by the way we did the campaign story that night… and so on.

I listened and, after the caller talked for a while and I was able to ask some questions about what specifically angered him, I tried to explain that I (and everyone I worked with) did not have an agenda, that we worked hard to present all sides fairly, and that we took our work as journalists extremely seriously.

Comments like those really bothered me at the time – both because I was young and hadn’t experienced such accusations (I started in news when I was 19 years old) and because, like I told the caller, I did take journalism extremely seriously. I got into that career because of my fascination with, well, everything and everyone, and because I wanted to present interesting, understandable, and fair stories. I didn’t get in it because I wanted adulation or because I had a bizarre fondness for hair spray.

Anyway, the conversation ended… I hung up… and the phone rang again. Still being the only one in the newsroom, I picked up the phone and this time, it was an equally irate viewer telling me we were obviously pro-Dukakis, that you could clearly tell by the way we did the campaign story that night… and so on. It was an interesting thing to experience – and an interesting lesson, to a certain degree – to get early on in my career.

One time, years later – different city, different television station – another irate viewer called the newsroom in regard to a story I was reporting on. I was out doing a live shot during a snowstorm (the requisite local-TV-news-reporter-gets-sent-out-to-stand-in-the-snow-and-say-“Look-everyone-it’s-snowing” story).

This woman, who our assignment editor said sounded both elderly and distressed, said, “That Mari seems like a very nice girl! You bring her in out of the cold!!!”

Of course, they didn’t… and I went on to cover a lot more snowstorms and all kinds of bad weather. But, to this day, I still want to hug her for trying.