When I think about why I truly love journalism, meeting new people and learning new things are the first two reasons that come to mind. I find joy in going somewhere new each day and asking questions about events or topics I know nothing about.
Most of the time, meeting new people and learning new things is not too challenging for me. But when it comes to stories about loss, grief and remorse, I freeze. The thought of asking strangers if I can interview them in the midst of their grief makes me sad. I don’t like those interviews and I am not sure I ever will.
If a stranger came up to me in the midst of my grief -- to get a soundbite for their package due in three hours -- I would most likely walk away.
But then again, stories involving grief are important; especially when they are done well.
A few weeks ago, I was reporting for Annenberg Media. I was assigned a day-of-air package about John Altobelli, the former baseball coach at Orange Coast College (OCC) and a passenger in Kobe Bryant’s helicopter the day it crashed.
Coach Alto was a beloved husband, father, coach, mentor and friend. He was adored by many and I could tell in the barren campus a week after his loss that the community was in mourning.
I left USC around 8:30 a.m. that day. In an Uber ride to OCC I contacted as many baseball players as I could, starting each sentence with, “I am sorry for your loss.” It hurt me to write those words but I knew I needed those interviews.
I arrived at OCC about an hour later. No interviews had been arranged and I had no idea what I was going to video or who I was going to talk to. I was stressed.
I called my producer, Becky Sweeney, and told her that the campus was empty. I wanted her to tell me to forget about the story and to come back to USC. I wanted her to assign me something else.
I sat down at a bench, hidden in a courtyard. I remember closing my eyes and wishing it was 5 p.m. -- By then my story would either be ready to air or, well, nonexistent.
A few minutes later I realized I had no choice. I had to get the story done. I picked up my camera equipment and tripod from the ground and walked over to the baseball field where a memorial for Coach Alto was set up.
I felt like I was walking into an enchanted forest; flowers and photos covered the entrance of the baseball stadium. A few people walked by. I kept missing my chance to get an interview.
Finally, a man came up to me. He asked me if I knew Coach Alto.
At that moment, I knew what had to be done.
“I didn’t know Coach Alto,” I said. “But I want others to know who he was.”
I interviewed the stranger who told me about his relationship with Coach Alto. The stranger shook my hand and said he hopes everyone knows how special his old coach was.
I found a few other people to interview. They were kind and open about their love for Coach Alto.
On my hour and a half Uber ride back to campus, I transcribed my interviews and wrote my script on the notes section of my phone. As a field reporter, no time can be wasted.
My Uber driver asked me what I was writing about.
I was lucky enough to tell him all about Coach Alto.