My First Job: Fledging Reporter, Internal Ethical Dilemma
I remember it was November of 1995 when I got the call from the People Magazine Miami Bureau Chief to skip my next few days of class, trek down from Gainesville to South Florida and assist them on a story. I was finishing up my last semester in college after interning at the popular national magazine the summer prior. That summer I had not only snagged the distinction for being the only Spanish-speaking reporter in the bureau in Miami – yes you read correctly – but I was the only intern during that three-month stint who had worked on a national cover story (the sudden death of budding model Krissy Taylor).
With only one month before to go until graduation and no pending job offers, I gladly agreed to jump on a 10-row commuter airplane and head to my hometown. After all, they needed me! Yes, it was because I was a good journalist but more importantly because I was Latina and spoke Spanish – critical attributes the editors in New York had concluded were necessary to land the breaking story. Just the day before, Maryling Flores, a 13-year-old 8th grader of Nicaraguan descent, and 14-year-old Christian Davila, another 8th grader, whose parents were Mexican, had reportedly held hands in the wee hours of a November Sunday morning and leapt into a 15-foot deep canal. Neither one could swim. They were found two days later.
It was a terrible tragedy yet in the journalism business misfortune, disaster, and heartbreak sells. So it was my task, along with a fellow reporter, to attend the funerals of these modern-day Romeo and Juliet lovers, whose parents had forbade them to see each other, and persuade family and friends to open their hearts and lives to us in the wake of such immense grief. I wrestled with the assignment. It was my opportunity to shine at the magazine but at what expense, I thought? They buried the teens together and as the girl’s mother sobbed and collapsed into the arms of family members at the graveside, I was placing business cards on the windshields of the mourners’ cars – scribbled on the back with words to coax them to speak with me.
With the magazine going to press a day and half later, we didn’t have much time to convince these families to speak with us about their children. In the end, we had to develop a write- around piece about the tragedy using quotes from other sources and news reports. A few days later, I was still reeling from the whole experience, when Maryling’s father, Marlon, called me. He was ready to speak with me now about his daughter. Unfortunately, the editors in New York had already moved on to other stories for the next issue, so I had to find some way to kindly tell this man, who had just lost his only daughter the week before, that we would not be doing another story.
Almost 17 years later, I think about this man, these families, these lovesick teenagers, whose lives affected mine and strangely enough helped my career when I was starting out. I am grateful that our lives intersected but still feel guilty that I somehow gained when they had lost.
I share this story for several reasons. For me, this is a classic example of how being Latina, bilingual and understanding the Hispanic culture made me a unique asset for a multi-million dollar company, but it is also testament to the difficult choices and compromises we, as fledgling professionals, often have to make in order to advance our career. We may not always want to highlight such situations and explain how we may have leveraged our uniqueness to move ahead but we should acknowledge its power and harness it for the greater good.