Natalie Weber | Thursday, August 23, 2018
I stumbled home from work exhausted and exasperated while I was interning at The Denver Post. I had spent the day trying to reach several spokespeople — all of whom seemed to be busy — and stayed two hours past my shift to finish an obituary.
The next day, I received a phone call. The man on the other end of the line was crying.
“Thank you for writing that obituary for my dad,” he said. “You captured him so well.”
As much as I tried to shake the feeling, I could not. Up until this point, I had been haunted by a quiet but persistent fear that what I was doing this summer didn’t really matter. But in the moments after the man hung up the phone, I began to shed any uncertainties I had about my line of work.
As I interacted with readers and spent more time reporting, I began to see the impact of local journalism. I learned alongside dedicated journalists, who traveled hours to cover wildfires in Southern Colorado or had spent nine months reporting on a single story about court cases concealed from the public.
Every single reporter I’ve met genuinely cares about their community and their country. They’re at the city council meetings, high school basketball games, sentencing hearings and the county fair. These reporters are curious individuals who want to make the world a better place.
I saw how their work brought to life the struggles and joys of local residents, and revealed the issues these communities sought to address. Their work highlighted the times the community has come together — both to mourn and to celebrate.
And there’s something almost sacred in being entrusted with some of the most vulnerable moments of others’ lives, and tasked with telling their stories publicly. During the summer, I spent five minutes on the phone with a man who had just witnessed a shooting. He ultimately hung up, apologizing that he had simply seen too much, and didn’t want to talk. I watched in a courtroom as a woman addicted to heroin offered a tearful apology during her sentencing hearing and talked to a family who had lost their childhood home in a wildfire.
Yet, I also had the privilege of recording some of the most joyful times in others’ lives — the pure relief of two sisters whose historic site had been preserved, despite a 108,000-acre wildfire, or the pride of immigrants sharing their citizenship stories.
At its core, journalism reminds people that what they do matters, and is worth remembering. It serves as a watchdog institution for powerful institutions but it also highlights the ways in which individuals can improve the world — even if only in their small corner of it.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.