Television news is a moving beast, with the attention span of a gnat. It’s strength is in its ability to provide us with a daily snapshot of the world we live in, but it’s a fast thirty minutes. Newscasts move in and out of grief quickly and barely give us time to reach for a tissue before it’s time for sports or weather. After a while, those of us who worked in the industry started to view the world the same way we viewed the news, providing structure and an endpoint for our own emotions with small soundbites and stories which rarely lasted longer than a minute and a half. When the story ended, so would our feelings. We were always running, running on to the next newscast. No sooner would the words and images be released to the public, than they were gone, into the ether of yesterday’s news and the back rooms of our minds.
There was a game we would play in the newsroom, designed to torment the memory. “Hey! What was the third story in the 5:30 show yesterday?” It was considered a real stumper because, who knew? We were already on to the next page; yesterday’s news was gone. Although most of us cared deeply about our work, this lack of memory on the day’s events had reduced the world we reported on to a cheap game of “Trivial Pursuit.” I was always worried that our viewers would begin seeing the world the same way, reduced to it’s barest components, stripped of any real depth and discarded along with their compassion as soon as the camera dipped to black and came back up on a commercial.
When I left the news world, I was lost on many levels, but the one that surprised me the most was how lost I felt in sorting out the world around me. Without the structure of my work, I no longer had an easy mechanism by which to process the world. I used to think that what I did was provide context for other people. I knew that in many ways, by framing a horrific event within the structure of a newscast, I was reining it in, too – making the event bearable through explanation and technology. “Structure out of chaos,” I used to say. But what I didn’t know at the time was that I was also doing it for myself. Without the rush of getting a story on the air, of being caught up in the adrenal atmosphere of a newsroom, I had nowhere to hide. I began to feel more when I read the paper or watched the news; I was surprised how much it disturbed me, how much more it lingered. My job had served to corral my own wild stallions, but without those fences, they began to trample the countryside.