Back in 2009, I was a 21-year-old intern trying to choke back tears outside one of the smaller homes on the block.
James Rose, the KDFW reporter who was quickly becoming my greatest mentor, walked outside to find me leaning on the front yard tree for support. The feel of its bark wasn’t even registering in my mind.
We were out in that neighborhood to cover a power outage, one in the middle of the day in Dallas, Texas, so darkness was no threat.
But I had just witnessed a bedridden elderly man being kept on this Earth by a car battery, hooked up to the machinery preserving his life.
And in that moment, I realized that three years of journalism school did jack crap to prepare me for what was out there.
The Real World.
Real World Suffering.
I just couldn’t understand why there were people out there who were hurting like this, resorting to this to be kept alive.
And I hated myself for how they'd been so far outside my knowledge, that it took that jarring image to wake me up.
For the rest of my life, I’ll never forget what James told me in that hot summer sun.
“If you take anything out of this internship, Nick, let it be this,” he said in his Louisiana accent which only seemed to thicken in the heat.
“We’re human beings first, journalists second.”
Then, James got on the phone to the Red Cross, demanding to know what could be done for these neighbors.
I don’t think he ever knew this, but I have lived my entire career these past 8 years on those words.
And it’s those words I leave you with as we enter 2019 together.
Let us never forget our empathy and understanding as we cover the story.
Let us redouble our efforts to understand our viewers and what they could be going through.
Let us always remember the power of putting ourselves in their shoes.
Our jobs sometimes require us to do things that we would beg for and barter with just about anything in order to avoid them.
We have to go to the scenes of those shootings and listen as mothers scream into the night air, learning that their children are dead.
I have heard far, far too many of those cries, the ones that expel the pieces of a person’s soul, the pieces ripped away by the greatest of tragedies and the harshest of anguishes.
Those screams stay with me to this day, and I’d wager they still do for a lot of you too.
And in those moments, we have to be the ones who would dare walk up to that family on their darkest of days and ask for them to say a few words about their lost loved ones.
To a camera.
But in every one of those moments, I’ve remembered James’ words. I’ve left the camera behind and walked up to them, not as a reporter, but as a fellow human being who’s heart is breaking for them.
I apologize. I let the tears come. I ask them how they’re doing and I don’t judge how they react. I ask them if they’d like to help me make sure that this heinous act of violence is never the last word spoken about the one they raised.
And something wonderful comes out of crying with those families.
A story is told.
A march to end violence is televised.
And a spark of community change is lit.
These are the people whom we serve. They have always deserved our understanding and our compassion.
We want them to see us as human beings too, not Fake News. We want them to know that we do this because we are passionate about the truth and about service.
We want to be their champions, but let us just be human beings first.