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Reporters exhibit bravery in pursuit of the news

July 04, 2009|By LINDA DUFFIELD

There's a scene in the movie "The Glenn Miller Story" that, true or not, illustrates the concept of grace under pressure.

In that scene, which takes place during World War II, Jimmy Stewart as Miller and his military band are playing "In The Mood" for troops on an outdoor stage in England when a German buzz bomb flies overhead. As service members dive for cover, Miller and the band keep playing, reaching a crescendo as the bomb falls safely some distance away.

That scene reminds me of the Titanic musicians who kept playing on the deck of the ship as passengers climbed into lifeboats. All eight bandsmen were lost when the Titanic slipped beneath the icy waters of the North Atlantic in the early hours of April 15, 1912.

It occurs to me that while those are extreme examples of people exhibiting bravery in the face of bad stuff happening around them, we can find contemporary, and in many cases barely noticed, examples of people doing their jobs under conditions that would make most of us shudder.

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Included on my personal list of the brave are reporters.

To see examples of their bravery, you need only turn to any newspaper that has reporters in war zones or switch on a news broadcast to see who is on the air from Iraq or Iran or Afghanistan or any other hot spot where danger is everywhere.

Reporters also can be found at scenes of natural and man-made disasters, bringing us news of approaching hurricanes, imminent flooding, explosions and fires that devour everything in their paths.

While others are fleeing such areas of danger, reporters are struggling to get closer to the action, whatever it is.

Reporters, at least of the type I consider to be the best of them, don't put themselves in danger for fame or fortune -- there's not a whole lot of either for most journalists, anyway. The good ones are driven by a desire to get the story, to shed light on events that can change lives -- or take them.

Closer to home, it might not seem like reporters have much opportunity to be intrepid, but I would disagree.

Certainly, on a day-to-day basis, the stress they face comes from such things as the contest of wills and wits involved in getting stories from official sources who don't want to provide information, the embarrassment of getting beaten on a story by another local news source and the rush to meet deadline.

There's that hold-your-breath moment when a reporter has to walk into a meeting room days after writing something that he or she is well aware probably infuriated most of the officials at the table.

Tame by international standards.

But there are moments.

I know reporters and photographers here in Hagerstown who have gone out on icy highways in blizzard-like conditions to get stories of multivehicle crashes, risking life, limb and their personal vehicles.

When snowfall is heavy and pretty much everyone else gets to take a day off work except police, hospital workers, firefighters and road crews, our reporters make it in so they can chronicle the snowfall. (So do the editors, but that's a story for another day.)

I know a reporter and photographer here who found themselves closer than they thought when shots broke out late one night during a manhunt.

And I know those who ignored the advice of authorities and drove through standing water to get to a community cut off by floodwaters.

Or who intentionally maneuvered themselves into what could have been the line of fire despite the best efforts of law enforcement officials to keep everyone back while someone with weapons was holding police at bay.

It's not recklessness that urges them on, but the desire to get the story.

Perhaps what's important isn't where a journalist works or the daily risk factor. It seems to me the important thing is the commitment to getting the story and keeping the public informed.

Most of the reporters I've known have had that commitment. If there's an adrenaline rush now and then, all the better.

Linda Duffield is city editor of The Herald-Mail. She can be reached by e-mail at lindad@herald-mail.com.

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