A Journalist’s Discretion

At the age of six, I was given the nickname “Nosy Noëlle.” My family never called me that to my face, but I distinctly remember my mother’s friend coining the name. I had overheard her talking on the telephone one afternoon, and I asked her who was on the receiving end. Granted, she was in the middle of a complicated divorce and it probably was her ex, but I was six. I was hoping it was my mother, but she never told me. To this day I have not forgotten that name, but I never thought I would hear it again since my mother stopped calling her “friend.”

During my junior year of college, I worked at an apartment complex. I signed leases, gave tours, did housekeeping, and monitored drunken students illegally drinking alcohol poolside. It was a decent and convenient way to keep my bank account well supplied, and it ensured I arrived at work on time (I lived there, too). While working there, I made friends with my co-workers. We bonded over our frustrations with the management and our minimum-wage pay. But in the back of my mind, I knew my “M.O.,” so to speak, was not to answer telephones with angry, ill-informed parents calling on behalf of a son or daughter’s rent payment. It was to write for the university and local newspapers, and at this job, my managers never allowed me to forget it.

Like I said, I worked at this job during my third year of college, so I was juggling a heavy course load and a 15-hour-a-week job at the university newspaper. But being stressed out beyond comprehension is not rare among college students; my boyfriend and roommates suffered their own share of work-related stress. I just experienced something a little different. On a regular basis, I was regarded just as the a nosy, snooping writer who was looking for a story idea in any presented situation. I never asked for the identification, but I couldn’t shake the remarks or skepticism. So I just did my job, quietly and with a smile. I let people walk over me because I was afraid of being the mess up “tattle-tale” ready to pounce on a story idea…

For instance, I would hear speeches from one of the managers about how he felt sorry for my generation and my future children because the country’s economic crisis is going to jump-start another Civil War. But since I’m studying to become a journalist, it’s my job to prepare the world. Yet, this same man also threw me out (not literally) of an office because he didn’t want me to overhear him ordering pool parts and write a story about it. Paranoid?

He even told another manager and my good friend that I was being a sneaky wannabe reporter purposely listening to him on the phone. Actually, I was sitting and doing my job logging packages. He’s the grumpy old man being sneaky about ordering pool parts. Is his supplier from the mafia or what?

Anyway, my rant is to say that when people assume you’re being nosy because of your job title, it can be a little insulting. I could be stretching the meaning of his comment, but I was offended. Since when did my identity as a “journalist” mean that I am untrustworthy? I get it; I know the history of journalism. I know all the stories that give the profession a bad name. There is Jayson Blair, celebrity news (which I admit to watching), yellow journalism, muckraking, etc. But really, why can’t people just get over it? News reporting is essential to our everyday lives; whether it’s news about a high school football team, Bristol Palin’s memoir, or the United States Marine Corps, people are curious and want information.

In 2009, the Pew Research Center surveyed about 1,500 people to find that 63% of respondents thought news articles are inaccurate and only 29% believed the media “get the facts straight.” These harrowing facts leave me upset, but also hopeful that Americans are questioning the information they receive from the media.

Beyond all the doubts is a fear that the media is taking something away from citizens. I understand the frustration of being lied to, but I also understand the blessing of hearing the truth and having the chance to respond accordingly.

My 6-year-old renamed self wanted to know who was on the other end of telephone so I could be assured that my mom was picking me up on time for ballet. I wanted to know so I could prepare myself for her arrival. Americans want to know because they deserve to be prepared, whether for a storm, an upcoming concert, or an argument in the break room.

Moreover, my own curiosity has led me to work on perfecting my ability to snoop and uncover truths. So I’m insulted that my former manager would think I was wasting my time listening to him on the telephone. If I want to know something, I would have been more discreet. Since I’ve quit that job, I can step back and empathize with that bitter manager having a bad day or week, but I am a little proud that he feared my power to listen and write.

By Noëlle

I'm a senior at Miami University studying Journalism and English Literature. I am a huge fan of black-and-white movies, especially ones starring Clark Gable.

2 replies on “A Journalist’s Discretion”

1) Woo! Miami represent! (Class of 2007, here).

2) I can empathize, because I’m going into law, and the sheer amount of comments about lawyers, the legal profession, and criminal defense, which I’m interested in, are astonishing. That said, I can see where some people are distrustful of the news. There are local broadcasts here, where I’m able to point out errors as I watch. Newspapers also present false information, or their slant is so marked that it reads more like opinion than the actual news. I think journalism is a fantastic profession. It was a career path that I seriously considered. However, I think this country has sort of crept down tabloid sensationalism, and the news has suffered for it. Given that newspapers and other print media also do not have the money for the quality editors that they used to, I can see why people are less believing in the news. I think questioning is good, but I think outright distrust leads everyone one step closer to tinfoil hats.

“Why do you always want to know everything?”

My father has been asking me that as long as I can remember. This goes from asking what’s for dinner to how his colleagues are holding up.

At the same time that people say to me: ‘You’re curious, journalism is really your thing’, they add a ‘The media is only about drama and being loud.’
Erm yes, thank you.
But I still see being curious as a good thing, even though I belong to the ‘Bad Guys of The Media’ (ha, I work for a tiny local news paper, but whatever eh?).

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