Friday, 7 August 2009

A day in the life of a reporter

How often do you get to meet truly amazing people who inspire you, teach you, and move you in the space of a conversation? Not that often - but this week I managed it twice in a day.

I trained as a news reporter, but hadn’t actually worked as a reporter for nearly twenty years, I moved on to editing, which I love. But recently I’ve started working part time at my very first paper, the Jewish Chronicle, which I joined as an 18 year old messenger girl, quite a lot of years ago, and I’m reporting again. It's a cliche that journalism makes you cynical. Sometimes it's true. But some days - and I've seen this happen to ancient old hacks, it's not just me - your head is turned around by the people you write about.

First we were covering the aftermath of the tragedy in Tel Aviv, where a gunman went in to a youth club for gay teenagers and killed two people. I talked to a man who had discovered the club when he was a student at a college for strictly orthodox Jews in Jerusalem. He would wait outside the club for hours, to be sure that no one would see him go inside. Once there he’d found a haven, somewhere he could be himself. His battle to accept himself, to find a way to make a balanced and true life was incredibly moving. Read it here.
And then I wrote about Sarah Ezekiel. Sarah suffers from Motor Neurone Disease, which leads to weakness and wasting of muscles, increasing loss of mobility in the limbs, and difficulties with speech, swallowing and breathing. It’s what Stephen Hawking’s got. It’s the kind of disease that makes you think that assisted suicide might be a good idea. It’s the kind of disease that people find so horrifying that they shrink from imagining it.

Sarah got involved in making an advert to raise awareness of MND. The ad is shocking, and demands to be seen. It’s been deemed too strong for television, although it’s been shown in cinemas with a 15 certificate. Now it’s possible that it may be altered and shown on tv.

Sarah sunk into a deep depression when she was diagnosed with MND, her marriage collapsed and she was left a single parent, increasingly disabled and reliant on helpers for the most basic things. But she found the strength to learn to live with MND. She goes to the gym. She has a website full of beautiful pictures of herself and her children, and she says ‘I believe that I've achieved more in my 10 years with this illness than during my life before MND.’ I defy anyone to look at Sarah’s website and not be changed by the experience. I'm furious at what life’s done to her, and stunned by how she’s transformed the experience.

She quotes Andy Warhol: "They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself. "

Sarah reminded me a little of Ellie in When I Was Joe who is a disabled athlete – someone who’s dealt with the trauma of becoming a paraplegic, moved on, is fiercely determined to achieve as much as she can and somewhat impatient with people who don’t make the most of their potential. I wanted to write about a disabled person without making their struggle the central story – to show that they are part of society like everyone else.

Sometimes I feel that my work as a journalist slows me down as a writer - it uses the same headspace, disrupts my flow. But some weeks I do an interview, write a story and I feel I’ve got material for a whole novel. This was one of those weeks.

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