Because it’s nobody’s business, right? They’ll pin me as the quiet type, so dedicated to my work that they wouldn’t even think of bothering me with the small talk of my personal, or even social, life. I’ll give them a bit of give, sure. I’ll let them know when I’m going to a ball game, or I met up with a friend last week that told me about that recent local event, or my parents are in town. I can be friendly, too, some jack-of-all trades. I can breathe forcefully through my nose at a joke; I can be quick-witted in that obtuse, professional way.
But the who, what, where, why that I ask every day to my sources will be nothing but shadows or silhouettes or speculated whispers for my coworkers to indulge upon. Because it’s nobody’s business, sure. Until it is.
I began working as a reporter for a local daily paper back in the summer of 2018, having moved to the Midwest from the East Coast in 2017. After hundreds of hours of unpaid work and my first full-time gig, I figured I had finally pushed my foot in the door, although already bloodied and battled, ready to ask the hard questions.
I’ve known the risks of working and living in red towns and counties; much of that didn’t deter me when I began reporting. Albeit frustrating, “paving the way” in these communities often felt like damage control. Someone else without my perspective may word this story differently, or take a misleading approach, or miss a nuance or two. But at least I was writing it, and at least it wasn’t any worse than it could have been.
Still, my identify would have proven as a type of virtue-signaling, or giveaway for some unprecedented bias via political agenda. Now, in this line of work, a code of ethics instilled by personal experience would no longer do. Quietly, covering everything and anything added nothing but a cowardly layer of camouflage. All I had to do was sit still and do the job. Because if I moved, even my editor would know. And who knows what disaster would’ve followed if they knew I was gay.
These fears dug deeper than paranoia and were often based in the known truths that affect the LGBTQ+ community. More likely to live in poverty and suffer from depression and anxiety, along with legal discrimination in the workplace and living situations, my very queer fears never felt like catastrophizing; they felt like preparation. And in an industry already plagued with layoffs, poverty wages and high risk of online threats, logging into work everyday left my stomach dropping and turning, like shoes drumming and tumbling through the inside of a dryer: cyclical, echoing and deafening.
And, in leaving my job this past spring, came the retrospective questions that were often followed by fits of rage: in what ways is my own identity, my own humanity and sense of self, infringing on my own capability of deciphering truth? Is seeking a humane and ethic way of finding narratives in facts what we truly feel is biased?
These conversations have continued on a national scale, with AP’s recent May 19 firing of Emily Wilder. With a country that widely believes that reporters falsify facts and instigate wide-reaching narratives about controversial issues, there is still a push at some publications with the antiquated idea that reporters are the neutral backbone of storytelling; that the best reporter is one with no opinions at all.
While journalism in itself needs a massive overhaul in terms of dealing with racism, transphobia and other major systemic issues, these conversations often avoid the quiet, whispering truth that the general public wishes to see reporters display an example of humanity in the truth. Many of us wish for victims of violence to be displayed instead of perpetrators, for TV crews to leave grieving families in peace. We are willing for a world that seeks facts in the face of humanity, respect and decency.
But this humanity has been found subjective. Our country, white people in particular, are torn between the damnation of those the privileged cannot understand and the absolute rejection of hate. We struggle to understand the power minorities hold in the finding and telling of truth. Because bias often does not live in what is reported, but in what isn’t.
Jordana Joy is a former reporter for The Morning Journal newspaper in Lorain, OH, where she has developed stories including the passing of Lorain native and decorated author Toni Morrison and an exclusive with Sandusky’s Jim Obergefell, who headed the Supreme Court case for marriage equality. She previously worked for Ohio Magazine.