Off the record - Joel Hall

While the hours are grueling and the pay sometimes questionable, I believe being a journalist is one of the greatest privileges in the world. I can think of no other career field in which someone is allowed to wade deep into such a variety of topics, meet so many interesting people, and learn so much about the way the world works.

However, there are elements of being a reporter that are irritating to no end. There is no other field in which everybody feels the need to announce your presence and make you feel like the father of a mule.

For various reasons, some people view journalists as the nosey kid in the classroom, waiting patiently to tattle on, and expose, the flaws of his fellow classmates. I tend to view journalists as cultural explorers - silent observers who take note of the world that most people are too busy, or too distracted, to take in.

However, it is really hard to be a silent observer when someone with a microphone points you out in the crowd and tells everybody to watch their back because a journalist is in the room.

At least once a week, whether it is at a city hall meeting, a county commission meeting, or some other public function, some important person who, at some point in his or her career, has had less-than-glowing things written about them by somebody, will feel the need to point me out. The fact that I wear a badge and tell people I work for the newspaper doesn't seem to be enough, so some people go out of their way to make others feel less comfortable about my presence there.

After the announcement, I immediately feel like a heel, simply for reporting to do my job. I'm sure police officers, who get yelled at by speeding, drunk motorists after pulling them over and giving them a ticket, feel the same way.

Another annoying thing about being a journalist is that people take everything you write personally, even if they aren't the subject of it. While many of these misunderstandings could be resolved by tactfully pulling me aside or sending me an e-mail, every once in awhile, someone kicks open the saloon door and calls me out like we're having a showdown at high noon.

Most people don't understand the work that goes into putting a newspaper together. It's a miracle that it even happens everyday. It's a constant game of cat and mouse, giving a little, but not too much, waiting and waiting some more, inductive and deductive reasoning, all under the pressure of constant deadlines.

Try to imagine walking a tight rope between the Bellagio and the MGM Grand hotel resorts, while holding a stick of dynamite in one hand with a dousing bucket at the far end of the rope. Then, imagine holding an alarm clock in one hand while a Marine drill sergeant follows you across the rope telling you to go faster.

That's kind of what it's like to be a journalist. We've got a job to do just like any other public servant, but often we're not given the same respect and understanding.

I think people can understand journalists better if they think about what police officers do. If I was a cop pursuing a wanted suspect in a high-speed, five-county chase, I am probably not going to stop to arrest a jaywalker. By the same token, if I am covering a meeting about public spending, I am not going stop what I am doing to capture a quote out of the air from a random person who doesn't like the haircut they just got.

Journalists deal with relevancy in their line of work just like everybody else, so unless you're a movie star with a bad-boy streak, there is no need to worry about the presence of your friendly, neighborhood journalist. The next time you find yourself sitting next to me and I haven't asked to talk to you, just remember, I promise I won't tell the teacher on you.

Joel Hall covers government and politics for the Clayton News Daily. He can be reached via e-mail at jhall@news-daily.com.