What inspired you to write the book?
“I had sort of an inkling really early in my career through some of my experiences that were faith related. For example, I would I would be interviewing someone and I would hear them say something and I heard a little voice in my head saying ‘That’s a sound bite from God.’ What they said just resonated with me. Sometimes it was almost like the message I needed to hear in my own life. It was as if they were teaching me something. I think I had those little moments all along.”
“I remember one event that made me think ‘I definitely need to do this.’ I was covering a very horrific crime of an entire family massacred. We were out in the neighborhood covering the story and one of the neighbors came up to the house and she just fell to her knees on the sidewalk in front of the home and began praying. I still get choked up talking about it. The sun was rising right then and I remember thinking to myself ‘Wow I’ve seen a lot of faith in the field.’ Seeing that made me realize that I needed to say say something about this. There have been a lot of books written by reporters about their experiences, but I don’t know if anyone has really talked about seeing the good in some of the most horrific moments and news stories that I’ve covered.”
Did you talk to that woman when you saw her?
“No. We left her to herself. Over the years you learn how to be respectful and handle situations and everyone knew in that moment to stand back. All the national networks were there as well as all the local stations and everyone just stood back and let her have her moment. When she finally got up everyone was was pretty courteous. Some asked her if she would be willing to talk with us. She talked about the impact and the family and how much it affected her, and she felt called to come to to that home and and pray in front of it.”
You’re no longer working in the field as a reporter. Was there any one incident or group of incidents you could say that prompted you to leave that profession?
“I think I think it was a culmination of a lot of things, but there is one particular story that stands out to me. Maybe it’s ironic, but the reason I’m writing the book is because of the emotions I saw and at the same time prompted me to leave. I was covering a scene on a weekend and it was in one of the suburbs. There was a boy hit hit on a bicycle and we were standing behind the crime tape. All we knew was that someone was hit on a bicycle. We were trying to get interviews when i saw a young man frantically run up to the crime tape and then he came over to me and he said, ‘Miss, miss, my brother’s missing from our apartment and his bike is missing. Do you know anything? Do you know anything? We’re afraid that’s my brother!’ I can hardly talk about it because…it just…yeah. I said ‘I’m really sorry. We don’t know anything yet.’ He was pacing around and then his mother came down and they’re both frantic. And you know I think I had seen this the scenario played out so many times.”
“When you’re a reporter and you’re at a scene like that like your perspective and point of view is totally different than anybody else’s. We’re observers and witnesses standing there just watching these stories unfold. So many times I would see families running to the crime tape and the detective or the police come and talk to them.”
“I saw one of the detectives come up and kind of huddle up with the mom and the brother and give them the news they they had feared. They both collapsed to the ground and I turned to my photographer and I said ‘I can’t do this anymore.'”
“You know, witnessing raw emotion and grief…in some ways I’m very grateful for it because it made me who I am today: a more compassionate empathetic person. But sometimes there’s a point where you have to walk away from that. So that’s that’s the story that sticks out in my mind when I decided it was time to move on and do something different.”
This makes me think of a of a saying that’s been around for quite a while: “If it bleeds it leads.”
“There was a directive in our assignments to capture the emotion. You know there’s two sides of that. You can look at it as exploiting the emotion which do I think happens, but on the flip side if you have a story with no emotion how do you really explain to viewers the the impact of it? So yes, we always went to the families, the people closest to whatever had happened. That was an internal struggle for me. I think any reporter who has a heart is going to admit that. The worst the worst is knocking on the door of the victim’s family, which I had to do that so many times. It never got easier. I always felt like I was going to throw up. You never knew what was going to be on the other side of the door. Sometimes there was a gun pointed at you. But I think my overall takeaway from that was I was actually surprised how many times people let us in and did talk to us. It was because they didn’t want anyone to forget their loved one and they wanted the world to know that their loved one was important. And that’s the way I approached it. I guess what helped me sleep at night is that in some weird way maybe I helped the family who’ve been through so much. And maybe maybe there’s a chance to prevent it from happening to another family if you share the story. I know the reputation of the media and and yes absolutely I think things are exploited for for profit and that isn’t good.”
How do people who stay in the field cope with this? Do they just harden their hearts?
“I think you’re bringing up a point that isn’t talked about enough. There’s war correspondence, which to me is like a whole different level and I would never equate reporters to what men and women in the military have seen or even First Responders but there’s definitely an impact. I had a professor reach out to me not long after Hurricane Harvey. She was looking into journalists and PTSD, and I did an interview with her to help her with her research. I thanked her for taking on this topic because I feel like young kids when they decide to go into journalism in college this is never talked about. Never the impact of what you’re going to see and how you deal with it–not even close. So you’re out there, you’re 23 years old–a cub reporter. I was not prepared for that. I think some become cynical and hardened, and some put up walls. I do feel like I put up some shields of protection and I think I’m still working to take those down and kind of become accustomed to civilian life again.”
So the title of your book is Faith in the Field: What I Learned About People During 20 Years as a Reporter. What did you learn about people?
“I learned that they’ll surprise you and that the human spirit is resilient. In the book I’m focusing on faith, hope, perseverance, courage, forgiveness and love. I saw so many situations where I was amazed. For example, doing an interview with a victim’s family and many times amazed at their their resiliency. I covered many court cases and you know they didn’t all end like this but many times at a murder trial the victim’s family would come out and do a press conference and say they’ve forgiven him or her and there was just an amazing witness of of humanity and so those little nuggets I think are what kept me going.”