Monica Bielanko
That's What She Said
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This Is My Job

I'm at work today, periodically sneaking into the bathroom to cry within the confines of a thin, metal stall.

Every now and again, although I've tried to harden myself to the messiness of life, the horror stories that the universe continually churns out for us news vultures to report, I get sucked in.

After nine years of working in the news industry, I've learned to NOT pay attention when I hear certain stories developing. Specifically, any story where children or animals are harmed. I immediately shut my ears and my mind to indelicate details being shouted from the assignment desk. Subsequently, I turn a blind eye to gory video being fed in. It's just too much. It will haunt my waking and sleeping moments for weeks.

One of the worst stories I ever fell victim to, aside from the nine eleven terror attacks, was a story about terrorist training camps in Afghanistan. The video I was trying to edit was shot by terrorists themselves, then fed to various news outfits around the world. CNN fed it to the FOX network and the network then beamed it out to it's affiliates.

I was endeavoring to write the anchor script to go with the video, so of course I had to view the entire tape. It's my job. That rainy Monday found me in the cramped confines of an edit bay colored ten shades of gray, shuttling through hours of tape, watching men (I use the term men loosely as many faces on that tape could have been no older than 15) running wildly through the desert, shooting at cardboard cutouts of Dubya..

Eventually, I got to the part where the terrorists were testing chemicals to be used, ostensibly for warfare against Americans. Thing is, they're testing the chemicals on a dog. I had to sit through 20 minutes of them injecting the dog, watching the dog begin to shake, cry, spasm, froth at the mouth and finally shriek in pain and fear before ultimately, blessedly, dying.

That happened five years ago and, even now, I can't type the incident without getting sick and wiping away tears. It's an image that will haunt me. Forever.

Back then, when my inner news optimist was still alive, I was trying to be a good little journalist. I would dutifully view everything. People leaping from buildings on 9-11, the aftermath of deadly car crashes, lone arms laying on roadways, faces missing... Now I know better. There is no point, no journalistic benefit to metabolizing atrocities like that. I've learned to fast forward, sometimes through the details.. If I leave something out, let someone else catch my mistake and fix the story. At least I won't have the horrific video or the stomach churning details lodged, like a shard of dirty glass, in my heart and mind.

But today, I had to write a story about a little girl's funeral. She was six. Kaitlyn was cavorting with the family dog in her backyard on Wednesday. The dog playfully grabbed her scarf and accidentally choked her to death.

I am stuck here, looking at pictures of a sweet faced pixie with pigtails.. and a beautiful golden retriever, posing proudly in happier times. The family sent the dog to an animal shelter. Because the dog was only playing, it will not be put to sleep.

This is my job.

Reader Comments (14)

Goddam, Mon, that strikes a nerve.

When I was spending my weekends in the wilds of west Wales (when all I wanted to do was hang with my Urban friends) I regularly had to visit my great uncles farm to feed chickens in the company of my wondeful grandfather.

I used to hang on my grandfathers every word as he described his life in the open cast mines of Wales as a pit prop engineer. Tales of collapsing roofs and an absence of quality materials to work with.

If I was lucky (?) Ito
January 28, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterPaul
Hmm, tough one.

I’ve been a nurse and a nurse practitioner for many years. In healthcare, you’re told not to get emotionally attached to your patients. But, I’ve never been able to detach myself from the people I care for. So, I try to work with it. I think it makes me better at what I do.

After all these years, sometimes when things happen to the people I care for, I go home and cry like a baby, stare at the ceiling all night & pray I did everything right. Then I get up the next day, go mountain biking, kiss my husband, play ‘ring around the rosie’ with my children until I’m dizzy & let the dogs lick me until I laugh.

If this story has affected you, then use that. You have a gift for writing. Write a story that honors that little girl without exploiting or sensationalizing her tragedy. Then do something to feed your soul. Call up a good friend; snuggle with Mr. Max; write a naughty e-mail to Serge.
January 28, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterchrissy
Mon - I know I posted earlier, but this is the full version of what I wanted to write.


Mon, that story rings a bell.

When I was growing up in Urban Cardiff I used to have to spend many a weekend in the wildest part of West Wales.

If I was lucky I’d get to hang with my Grandfather. He’d tell me stories of the open cast coal mines in the area where he was a pit prop engineer, Stories of mine collapsing, inadequate supplies of engineering equipment and general inadequacy from the mine owners (and later the nationalised mines)

Anyway, in later years my Granddaddy took it upon himself to look after his bro-in-laws (Georgie) farm. I used to love going there with him to feed the chickens, muck out the stable etc. It gave me something to talk about on Monday morning in my school in middle-class Cardiff.

We had one problem in the farmyard. The lunatic Collies.

Most of the time they were locked up in the stable until Granddaddy let them out – they would welcome us and search for the food that Jack (my Granddaddy) would serve them. But now and again there would be a problem.

The usual problem would be a postman arriving before us. Georgie would immediately set the dogs on him, assuming that there would be an unreasonable tax demand being delivered. Fair enough.

If me and Granddaddy arrived later then we were ok.

But one fateful day me and Granddaddy and the postman arrived as one.

In brief. Georgie released the dogs, Granddaddy, screamed, postie legged it and I had two lunatic Collies knawing at my neck. And then Georgie let loose two rounds from a double barrelled shotgun!

Chaos insued, the police were called and the two Collies were immediately sent to the electric chair.

Except I refused to let them put down two of the most wonderful dogs I’ve ever known. They were protecting their owner and for years after they ran to me inviting rubs and cuddles, but refused to leave the environ of Georgie, lest he be un-protected.
January 28, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterPaul
Big hugs for your Monica! It has to be hard. Just watching the news depresses me!
January 28, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJen
It's an ugly world out there, and unfortunately it doesn't go away just because we don't choose to look at it. I wish the whole Katrina mess would go away because it kills me even to think about it, but to honor those people, we have to think about such things, to expose them and deal with them so they don't happen again.

I just wish more journalists could report the news that needs to be reported, not the voyeuristic crap that passes for news most days. Even Anderson Cooper's Katrina reporting smacked of self-importance; after all his tears, he could just go home and move on to the next story. He had his ratings, and eventually, his prime time slot. These people's stories, no matter how ugly, are important and need to be told in a dignified, non-exploitive manner. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen too often. Editing raw footage is often a terrible job, but perhaps even more terrible is the manipulation and exploitation that accompany the eventual reporting; we must never forget that the only agenda of corporate media is to keep us watching.

It's too bad that journalism has sunk to this level; hopefully you will find another profession less soul-sucking and leave these vultures to their body counting.
January 29, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterTravis
This hits home, on a number of levels...I must admit that, anymore, I get my news almost strictly online, where I can moderate how much I take in. I can't cope with the constant onslaught of words and images that come from the television news. I swear, my soul shrinks in proportion with the amount of heart-breaking news that I watch. I want to be informed, but I think there is only so much that a person can deal with before they start to lose some level of sensitivity...When I was 14, I lost my best friend to a brutal and senseless murder. It is painfully ironic that my last memories of her are the reports on the newspaper and the television, glorifying every gory detail that I wish now that I'd had the sense not to read. Words are powerful, once they are in our mind, they never really leave. But there is a fine line between experiencing and using it to make something more, and burning away that very empathy that makes you a great writer in the first place.
January 29, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterNikki
A child lost strikes at all of us, and makes the world a less beautiful, graceful place.

Here's where the faith thing comes into play, but it can't replace the loss. We're all diminished.

The stories that get me are when "accidents" aren't accidents, and the blows come from the very--and only--lifeline children have. Their parents. Their step parents. Their guardians.

Rarely are they only playing. And from my core, I think they're the ones who SHOULD be put to sleep.


It's hard, News Girl. So hard. Let's pray for this beautiful little girl... and too many others... tonight.
January 29, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterWry Bri
On a happier note... did you catch Extreme Home Makeover last night? They featured a family that rescues animals.

P.S. Stfarmer changes the subject when confronted with uncomfortable situations.
January 30, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterStFarmer
throwing a prayer up for you, monica.
January 30, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterghost
Okay, one more light note: Paul. The "lunatic Collies"??? Hilarious! There have to be more stories there. What a great name that would be for a blog... or a band. Please write more!
January 30, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterWry Bri
No, no, no.

Travis wrote: "It's too bad that journalism has sunk to this level; hopefully you will find another profession less soul-sucking and leave these vultures to their body counting."

Like all of us, I want Monica to get out of this business and have tremendous success doing the kind of writing she was born to do.


Until that happens, I want someone with her sensitivity writing the news. Not because it makes her sad. Not because it tears her apart, but because if the news business truly is full of soul-sucking vultures (and I am not disagreeing, particularly not in the tv medium) then we need people WITH SOULS that are mindful of that.

I spent several years as a newspaper reporter and I clung to keeping myself human at all times. Even if I cried in front of the person I was interviewing. I once interviewed a man who hours before, had watched his wife of 30 years get hit by a car and die right in front of him. I didn't want to bother this man. I hid from the editor. But it turned out OK. The man wanted to talk, wanted to tell a story or two about his wife. And I'm glad he did. Because even though, his sadness was just beginning, this story was just news for one day. And for one day everyone got to read about this person who was no longer with us.

Monica, I hate that you are tortured by your job, but know that your compassion is never unappreciated.
January 30, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterCinco Lover
I have to touch on the "soul-sucking vultures" comment. In truth, yes, much of the news media can be and deserve to be catergorized as such. But what about all the journalists over in Iraq who risk their lives everyday to try and keep the public informed? The public in which a shocking amount continue to go on with daily life, unaware and "blissfully ignorant".
As someone who is trying to pay her way through school to become a journalist,because it something I am truly passionate about,it saddens me to think that an entire profession can be so easily bottled up,labeled in such a way and completely disregarded.

Monica, as always I enjoyed this immensely and I think that whatever avenue you decide to take when it comes to writing, you will be great at it.
January 30, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMerteuil
Merteuil, I certainly would never slap one generic label on journalism. I think you'll find all kinds of folks in the business. I also think you'll find, when it really gets down to brass tacks, it's all about ratings.. more so then nearly anything else.. To me "folks risking their lives" in Iraq do so for a myriad of reasons.. Not low on that list are personal glory (think Geraldo) and big ratings.. Sure, there are integrity driven journalists who want to inform the public - but that is never their one and only driving force.. It's much more complicated then that.
January 30, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMonica
"Okay, one more light note: Paul. The "lunatic Collies"??? Hilarious! There have to be more stories there. What a great name that would be for a blog... or a band. Please write more!
January 30, 2006 | Wry Bri"

I have no idea why I posted this here - I think it was the mention of a dog somewhere!

I've got hundreds of storys about my Grandaddy and will wait for Mon to lead me on to them......

January 30, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterPaul

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