While I consider myself truthful, I have been known to embellish things just a tad, only when such a teensy addition would make the story immeasurably better, of course. I often feel a kinship with storytellers of ancient days, sitting around ye olde fire. I’d begin, “So…I killed a deer today. Pretty much it.” “Tell us more!!!” my rapt audience would plead. “OK, well, the deer attacked me first, and wrested the bow and arrow from my hands.” “Wow!!!” “And after it was dead, I carried it 20 miles through the snow, uphill both ways.” “Now you’re talking!!” See what I mean? SUCH an improvement!
Whereas reporters have no such leeway. Much as I’m sure they’d love to add a pithy comment here, a hilarious anecdote there, they are duty-bound to capture what was actually said by their interviewees, and not a syllable more. No wonder I opted out of journalism school!
There is a trend nowadays to add an element of reporting to personal essays, in order to make them more timely, and, therefore, marketable. Recently, a couple of my editors have asked that I get a quote from a source or two, to beef up my narratives. While I certainly comply, it is not without a decent amount of trepidation. What if I (gasp) misquote these people??? My M.O. is paper and pen, not voice memos and the like, so my post-phone call routine is to try my darnedest to decipher my scribble-scrabble that passes for notes. Did Pastor Mary really move to a “fram” in rural Ohio? Does Dr. Peters truly believe that artificial intelligence is good? Or, maybe, bad? Or, is he neutral about the whole thing? I write my pieces and hit send, dreading the possible fallout from my subjects. So far, everyone has been pleased…which means that I am way overdue for an angry email from an irate expert, who threatens to sue me for putting (the wrong) words in his/her mouth.
I am currently writing an essay about my very favorite bed and breakfast in Ireland, where Rose, Julie and I stayed in 2017, for a publication called “The Heart of the Hotel.” In all my travels, I never encountered innkeepers with bigger hearts than Jimmy and Noreen Bruic, of The Forest of the Roses on the Dingle Peninsula. I referred to my four-year-old notes from our visit. I emailed Jimmy for some clarifications. Even now, as I am about to submit, I picture the kind and serene Mr. Bruic, his face uncharacteristically contorted in fury, accusing me of getting something (anything) wrong, thus ruining his business forever.
“Practice makes perfect” (who coined that phrase? Need to give the proper credit to the author!) so I will press on as a newly-minted member of the press. The writing game continues to evolve and so must I. I am spending time today investigating recording devices, in my ongoing quest for accuracy.
But boy, it’d be fun to quote Jimmy as saying, “sure and begorrah.”