Karen Peterson

Karen Peterson: Job of a journalist sometimes just plain fun

Make no mistake: Journalism is serious work.

Reporters in our newsroom work hard to explain complex issues, keep an eye on public officials, and cover tragic crimes and natural disasters.

But when we’re not doing that — or sometimes in the course of telling those stories — we get to do some pretty cool things.

In the past few weeks alone, I’ve listened to renowned golf course designer Robert Trent Jones explain the finer points of his work at Chambers Bay, and I’ve hiked with scientists on Mount Rainier learning how melting glaciers are rerouting entire rivers.

We go see stuff and do stuff so we can tell you about that stuff. It’s right there in the job description.

When Tacoma Public Schools students tromp in the Pack Forest near Eatonville to search for wolverines, reporter Debbie Cafazzo and photographer Peter Haley get to tromp with them. When Tacoma Screw puts up the tallest flagpole in town, Drew Perine gets to ride up in a crane to shoot a video view for the rest of us.

One of my personal favorites was a trip to the top of the new Narrows Bridge — still under construction — in 2006. Reporter Rob Carson, two other editors and I made the trip. It helped us understand the engineering we were trying to explain to readers.

Getting to the top was tricky. We walked on the old bridge out to the first tower, then down a 16-story staircase to the water level. We traversed a temporary walkway over to the new bridge footing and rode a construction elevator up the outside of the south tower.

Once we were on top, engineers explained the cabling and how they were lifting portions of roadbed up from the water 500 feet below. Then we walked down a wire catwalk strung beneath the giant cable all the way back to the ground.

Yes, we journalists were the kids whose favorite days at school were the field trips.

We also meet fascinating people and get to tell their stories.

Early in my career, like many new journalists, I was timid about talking to sources. But I learned that people would answer almost any question if I started the conversation with something like: “Hi, I’m Karen Peterson. I’m with The News Tribune.”

I’ve asked a chef his secret ingredient. I’ve asked a woman if she dyes her hair. Eventually, I could ask a community leader what on earth he was thinking when he did that seemingly crazy thing. (They didn’t always answer, but they weren’t surprised I asked.)

I admittedly was a little star-struck when I interviewed singer-songwriter Jimmy Buffett years ago on a beach in Hawaii, but I asked for a sneak peek at what he was working on. He shared with me the lines to a song that, sure enough, showed up on his next album.

I got into this business, I tell people, because I couldn’t decide what I wanted to be when I grew up. So many fields fascinated to me.

Halfway through my junior year of college (I was a business major because I got a business scholarship), I took a news writing class as an elective. I quickly learned that every news story was an education in itself.

If I became a journalist, I reasoned, I could keep learning and not be pinned down.

Kismet.

Lots of journalists are here for similar reasons. They’re curious by nature and love to be in the thick of things.

We never know for sure when we walk in the door what tomorrow’s paper will look like. We thrive on that.

In just the past week, I’ve caught myself telling a handful of people how much I love my job.

Of course, journalists bear great responsibility for protecting the First Amendment and informing the electorate. We also are here to introduce you to your most interesting neighbors and keep you up to date with what’s buzzing around town.

It’s the combination of those roles that makes me feel fortunate to be doing what I do.

TNT AWARDED FOR DISTINGUISHED REPORTING

The News Tribune has received two Blethen Memorial Awards for Distinguished Newspaper Reporting.

First place in enterprise reporting went to Kari Plog for her story about the eight people who mistakenly drove their cars down the boat launch and into the water at the Narrows Marina in Tacoma. The accidents over the past 17 years resulted in four deaths.

The News Tribune staff was awarded second place in the breaking news category for coverage of the house fire last year on Fox Island that killed Dr. Tom Babson and his 8-year-old daughter, Allie. Stacia Glenn reported from the scene throughout that day with assistance from reporters Adam Lynn and Debbie Cafazzo. Photographers Dean Koepfler, Lui Kit Wong and Lee Giles III shot photos and video.

The Blethen Awards are named for C.B. Blethen, publisher of The Seattle Times from 1915 to 1941. The contest is open to daily newspapers from Washington, Oregon, Montana, Idaho, Utah, Alaska, Alberta and British Columbia. The News Tribune competes in the large newspaper category.

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