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Labor of love

Maddie Hanna | Friday, February 22, 2008

I still remember three years ago what Tom Bettag, then the producer of ABC’s “Nightline,” told my journalism class about the news industry.

“You have to be kind of masochistic and love hard work,” he said. “If you can be normal, and not be so compulsive, God bless you. But if you can’t, and you’re stuck with that, go into news.”

I’m stuck with that. I’ve known it for years. What I didn’t realize yet was how many other people were the same way.

It’s not that everyone at The Observer is seriously considering a career in journalism. (There are just a few, actually.) And it’s not that all of us are passionate about news, either. Nearly 200 hundred people contribute to this paper, and for plenty of different reasons. Many aren’t as idealistic as that “ethical obligation” to tell the truth, inform the public and uphold democracy – the lessons we’re taught in journalism classes.

Still, there’s a little masochist in so many of us.

From 12-hour shifts to three-Insider weeks to one-dollar-an-hour paychecks, I’m continually amazed by what people will tolerate – and with little complaint. (OK, people do complain about the paychecks.)

I’ve watched people step into demanding editing roles they didn’t want because they knew how much they were needed. I’ve watched writers and photographers quickly agree to inconvenient last-minute trips when the team they’ve been covering makes it into a tournament. And I’ve watched reporters drop everything when something more important than midterm papers happens – like the deaths of two students earlier this week.

Whether it’s ditching classes, skipping nights out, running on three hours of sleep – or putting up with a certain staff member who listens to nothing but Carole King – everyone at this paper makes sacrifices.

But I’ve done virtually nothing to instill this sense of responsibility in staff members.

They already have it.

I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, people show up in the basement of South Dining Hall intending to work. But you wonder how many extra articles and 4 a.m. nights a sane person is willing to handle.

Then again, most people down here aren’t completely sane. When people start making jokes about how convenient it would be if we had cots and a shower in the office, though, you know their sleeping patterns (and personal hygiene) are a little off, to say the least.

I’m fully aware of how much the general public distrusts the press. While I know many of their criticisms have merit – Jayson Blair, anyone? – I still dislike when people issue vague, sweeping attacks against “the media.” I know that in my career, I’ll meet those journalists that give all of us a bad name – the self-important, talking-head types who thrive on splashy headlines and their own prominence.

But I’ve spent four years with some pretty selfless people. Whatever you’ve thought of the paper this year, I know they worked hard for it.

For me, masochism isn’t something destructive. It’s a labor of love. To all those who have labored with me, I’m beyond grateful. Thank you.