I remember as if it happened yesterday. I was 10 years old, in third grade, and standing at the blackboard at Little Flower School in Milwaukee, Wis. Sister Clotidus had asked each of us to write what we wanted to be when we grew up. I knew even back then. I didn't write "wife" or "mother" or "teacher" or "nurse" or even "nun," which at one time I thought I wanted to be. I wrote "journalist" because I knew that I wanted to write for newspapers.
Where it came from I will never know for certain. My father used to bring back a dozen or so New York dailies from his business trips to the city, and with my siblings we pored over them with excitement and relish. We all still share an affinity for the printed page. But could have it been the byline? Or maybe that one could ask the man in the street questions that others could not? So I followed a determined path, editing the high school paper, the college paper, gathering degrees in journalism, then jobs at the Washington Post and the New York Times before moving to Paris in 1980 to begin my freelance career. The passion for journalism never stopped. And I haven't either.
I cannot say that I love the writing. But I do love the reporting, and the satisfaction and positive results that the writing provides. It is the reporting process that compels me. I love researching a subject to death, talking to as many experts as I can find, getting their take on it all, then synthesizing the information and delivering it to readers as information that is as true and honest and unbiased as I can make it.
The added advantage to all of this is that I, the journalist, am enriched with knowledge I would not have otherwise. Reporting a subject is so different from simply witnessing it. Take a restaurant meal. As a simple diner I may not even remember the next day what I ate. But as a reporter I am obliged to pay extra attention, judge, consider, evaluate before and after the meal. The critical writing process itself forces me to dig deeper, helps me consolidate my own thoughts, and in most cases (assuming it was a good meal) add to the pleasure of the experience.
Being a reporter is a 24/7 job. I can't walk past a pastry shop or bakery, a butcher shop or a restaurant without stopping to observe, evaluate, consider how one is different from another, what's new and what's old. Many of my story ideas and recipes spring from simple observations at outdoor markets or a glance in a shop window. My antenna is up and fully charged all the time, offering me immense pleasure all on its own.
Feedback from readers as well as the people I write about is another satisfaction from writing. Restaurateurs and other subjects of stories often tell me, "You have the nicest readers." The fact that a reader can come to a shop or a restaurant armed with information makes them a better customer, and most often a satisfied customer as well. Good enough reason to write, no?