A peek into the life of a mindful journalist
There’s an instructional story in journalism of the cub reporter sent to cover the local flower show.
He came back to his editor an hour later and said there was no story.
When asked why, the young lad said “because the place burned to the ground.”
It seems preposterous, but I’ve seen examples similar to this due to a reporter's fixation on a particular outcome.
And yes, painfully, I’ve also let stories slip into the chasms of my distracted mind.
Because of my background, it was all the more embarrassing.
When I entered journalism in 1995, I had already adopted a robust daily mindfulness practice for 19 years. Tending to the moment was not new to me.
But this practice can always be refined. (That’s why it’s called a practice).
When in an interview, how closely am I paying attention to what is being said, or what is not being said? How are they saying it? Where are those critical pauses?
Some of the most important stories I have told in my 22-year journalism career were a result of paying attention that closely.
It was never lost on me how deeply the stories I published affected people’s lives, nor did I ever lose that sense of honour when people trusted me enough to risk sharing sensitive information with me.
In return, it was incumbent upon me to not only get the facts right, but to capture the very essence of what they were trying to communicate.
In every interview I conducted, I assumed I had something important to learn, and that I needed to shut up and listen.
For that, I needed to be completely present.
This cultivated in me a growing fascination of what was being said. I knew when that feeling of awe washed over me, I was on my game.
Pairing presence with print journalism results in a far better product, in my experience, one which is far closer to the truth.
On the flip side, if my mind was wandering (which is what minds do), I was headed for disaster.
Another mindful technique I would build into my professional work is creating a pause where necessary. The most important pause for me, I found, was after writing a story.
I learned to complete the writing, then get up and walk away from it (sometimes overnight if time allowed).
Fresh eyes and a still mind were absolutely critical in ensuring everything in that story was up to snuff. And when re-reading the piece, I would tune into body sensations.
These were the first things to give away the notion that something wasn’t right with the story. My body, or intuition, was never wrong.
If an alarm bell went off physically, it was time to back off, and figure out why.
Often, there was a fact that needed to be checked, or another phone call for balance. Without including all of the senses and emotion into the thought process, none of those early warning systems would have been seen. This system has saved my hide countless times.
Being mindful, present, on task, whatever you want to call it, completely raised the bar of my journalism work.
And it’s done the same for every task I’ve undertaken when not writing for a newspaper.