It was a quarter to midnight in the newsroom -- a half-hour after deadline -- and I had just finished the article. I sent it over to the copy editor, who slotted it and shipped it to the presses. I shut off my computer and took a moment in the stillness of the usually bustling newsroom. My first day as an intern for a newspaper this summer, I found myself reporting on Megan Marie Tibbs, or rather her death at the hands of anorexia a month before her high school graduation. That story taught me a lot about journalism because it was a story I wasn't sure I should have been writing. I heard about Megan's death from a friend. Megan went to my alma mater's sister school and word of tragedy travels fast in a small town. I was fuzzy on the details when I mentioned the story at the morning's news meeting. I didn't even know her name. All I knew was that there was an eating disorder, a death and a lot of pain. I found Megan's name in the obituaries and called her father. I didn't know how to carefully say that I wanted to talk about his youngest child, deceased two weeks before. I began by saying I was a reporter. "What do you want?" he asked. His voice was hoarse from mourning. I was reminded of something at that point: I was uninvited. Mr. Tibbs didn't call me offering this story. I was an outsider knocking at the door of a parent's worst pain, hoping to show it to 200,000 other people. I felt like hanging up. But I continued and convinced Mr. Tibbs and his family to meet with me in their home. I told him what I believed to be true, that his daughter's story struck a chord with anyone with a sister, a daughter, a classmate. I told him it was important. But it being important didn't mean it had to be told. If you boil it down to its core, what I was asking the Tibbs to do was explain the life and death of their little girl in two hours so I could put it in 35 inches of newspaper. In that formula, there is the chance for a lot of journalistic abuse, abuse that has happened too many times in stories like these. Journalism isn't just reporting the facts. Interpretation is a big part of the job, and doing it well is what separates great reporters from the merely good. Journalists cast heroes and villains, deem what's important and what's not and -- at their worst -- distort the story and call it news. I always tell those whom I interview that I am in the truth business. But, admittedly, the truth is malleable. That's something many journalists recognize but not nearly as many respect. So, walking into the Tibbs' home, I was scared. Scared not only that they would show me the door at the first tough question, but scared of what I'd do with their words if they answered. And despite all the questions I had for them, the most pressing was one I had for myself: What am I doing here? What unfolded was not a question-and-answer session, but an outpouring of grief, joy and remembrance. Megan's mother showed me intricate cards the budding artist made to apologize for small spats. She talked of how Megan's art mirrored her life -- sullen and dark when a diet spiralled out of control, taking half her body weight, brighter as she began a road to recovery. The older brother told me how Megan had an "inner fire to make up for lost years," how she had just turned a corner in her struggle and even founded an after-school support group. She planned to double major in Art and Psychology: one to express a personal love, another to express her love for others who shared her affliction. As raindrops against the window cast running shadows on the face of Megan's father, mirroring his tears, he told me how they couldn't wake Megan one morning. Her heart, weakened from years of self-denial, finally relented. They all hoped Megan's story -- Megan's life -- would help others. Megan, they said, would have wanted her story told. That was why I was there. A veteran reporter once told me that the reward of journalism, your validation in this sometimes brutal industry, comes when you see the ink on the paper. And the next morning, with Megan's angel eyes gazing up at me from my desk, her face smiling beside her story, I knew what he was talking about.Comments powered by Disqus
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