It was my first current affairs story and it seemed straightforward enough.
Interview the real estate agent whose client had plans to develop a stunning parcel of land hugging the New South Wales coastline.
Get the council to comment on the likelihood of zoning changes needed for it to happen.
Ask people in the main street what they thought about the potential development and add gorgeous pictures of the land itself.
Fairly average stuff for our country station but it would give me a chance to branch out from the one-minute news stories I’d been doing.
But as I grabbed my notebook and headed out the door, the news editor called to me, ‘The company behind the development is Japanese – play up that angle. A lot of people around here still feel strongly about the Japanese after the war. But don’t tell the real estate agent what you’re doing or he’ll refuse the interview.’
It stopped me in my tracks.
I was confused and conflicted. What did anti-Japanese sentiment have to do with a land development? Surely it was a straightforward business deal. And wasn’t it wrong to deceive the interviewee?
It felt very wrong to me. Yes, I knew ratings mattered and conflict rated but I didn’t like the idea of whipping up opposition to the project just for ratings.
I was barely six months into my first reporting job and to be honest, pretty unworldly. My boss was a man I had liked from the start – a good reporter and writer; someone seemed to operate ethically.
So, I ignored my misgivings and did the interview without letting on about the approach we were taking. I’m sorry to say that the final story did play up the Japanese developer angle. I even got the editor to include emotive music and the rising sun flag.
It was shameful.
Naturally, after it aired I got a call from the real estate agent.
I was nervous. I thought he’d give me a roasting.
To my surprise he wasn’t angry, just expressed disbelief that I would mislead him so blatantly.
I tried to talk it over with my boss but he gave me the impression that I needed to toughen up. That taking the angle we did was part of our role to tackle the tough questions. I left feeling somehow smaller, and not up to the job.
Thankfully it was the only time I experienced direct interference in a story although there would be many more times when I was confused. I was always trying to work out who was right and who was wrong so I could tell the story ‘properly’.
I know better now. I know that there’s often a little bit of right and a little bit of wrong in every situation and in most people including me.
Getting it wrong is something I’ve come to accept as part of growing.
There’s a quote I like from the British philosopher Alain de Botton.
Embarrassed? I’ve done that…
I’ve been keeping a journal, off and on, for more than thirty years and there’s plenty between those pages to feel embarrassed about.
But if Alain is right, there’s been plenty of growth because of those embarrassments.
As a teenager, I’d use my journal to record what was happening, where I’d been and what I’d done as well as pour out my feelings. Lots of angst and longing there!
These days my journal is more reflective and it’s begun revealing to me who I am at heart and where my heart needs to go.
It seems plenty of others feel the same way: businesswoman Suzi Dafnis recently wrote about journaling…
It’s such a powerful way to get present to what’s really going on and to listen to that still quiet voice that often doesn’t get heard in the busy-ness of life. But it’s from that still quiet voice that some of my BEST ideas for my business have come from.
At the start of this year, I decided to read my old journals instead of doing my usual thing of setting goals. It’s been inspirational. Reading back has shown me the common threads that come up time and again – yes from month to month but also further back, from year to year.
It’s helped me see that four intentions keep coming up:
1. To work with inspiring people
2. To do great work
3. To build and maintain good relationships
4. To be fit and healthy.
These are the foundations to fulfilment and success for me. They are the foundations to my being. So now I’m using them to set short term goals, asking each time – how does this serve one of the foundations? Through knowing myself better, I make better choices and set better challenges for myself.
If I had known myself better as a young reporter, would I still have surrendered my integrity to someone else’s agenda? Done the real estate story the same way? Hmm – yes probably, because as a junior reporter I had no power.
But it would have helped to know that being confused and conflicted was not weak. It was strong to try to work out a way to be true to myself. Strong to have doubts. Strong to get it wrong and still keep going.
So I agree with Alain – last year’s self is embarrassing but by journaling, I can make sure I’m embarrassed enough to grow.
Image by Will B.