Thursday, July 10, 2008

Career Choice—A Life of Crime?

by Jenna Jackson

I have a new intern for the summer. He’s a college student, working on his degree in journalism, and is trying to decide what he wants to do for a living once he graduates. It’s been a loooooong time, but I remember the pressure of that time. You’re about to end one major phase of your life and begin another—and you feel like you have to make a decision that will shape your future.

I kind of finked into my decision. I wanted to be a dance teacher—and had been working toward that most of my life. I injured my knees my senior year in high school, though, and that put an end to that. So I took the other scholarship I’d been offered at
Sam Houston State Universitya journalism scholarship. I needed the money, and that was the only other offer, now that my dance scholarship was gone.

That decision started me on a career that has taken me places I never imagined. For me, it has been a good career so far—and a good fit. But there are days when working almost exclusively on murder stories takes a toll. I almost forget how strange this world can be until someone new and unaccustomed to it comes along.

My intern, Matthew, is a blank canvas. He is smart, motivated, talented in many areas – and just trying to figure out what will fit him best. (He already runs a small but successful photo business, Matthew Crawford Photography.) And he is young—it has been an experience to me just to watch him take in this weird world I call a career. Many days, we’re sitting in my home office, making calls and sending e-mails. Exchanges and conversations that are completely normal to me cause him to look a little shocked at times. It has made me stop and listen to what I’m actually saying to people.

Nearly every conversation I have consists of details of a murder. I spend my days meeting with or talking to victims, suspects, lawyers—someone, who in some way, has been affected by a brutal crime. I always feel for the people to whom I’m talking—but it is also a job to me, and one I’ve been doing for more than a decade now. So sometimes I forget what an impact it has on people who aren’t used to this world.

Right now, I’m working on a couple of different cases, getting them ready (with a team of other people) to air on
48 Hours in the fall. In one, a man with no violent history is accused of executing his pregnant wife with a shotgun (Belinda and David Temple at left). My fellow blogger, Kathryn Casey, is writing a book on this bizarre case. In another, a 38-year-old man is accused of beating and strangling his own father, who he said had it coming because of years of abuse.

I had Matthew read the files so that he would be familiar with these cases—he has now listened to me talk to many of the people involved—and has sat through some on-camera interviews. During one interview session, one of our correspondents asked him (only half jokingly) why in the world he’d want to get into this dark business.

I am happy with the decisions I’ve made—I have a career that is never boring. And I get to meet incredible people fighting the odds every day. But I also am probably more cynical (and paranoid, especially when it comes to being a new mother) than the average person because of the tragedy I see every day.

I hope Matthew gets a good look at this business, so he can decide which direction he wants to go in his career. And I’m glad he’s seeing the full scope of it—because even though it’s a very rewarding career, it definitely takes a certain kind of person to stay with it. And it can take a toll on you emotionally—better to know that from the beginning and make the choice that choosing this 'life of crime' is still worth it.

To me, it is. I have the honor of meeting people going through their hardest times—and I’m the one who is allowed to help them tell their stories.


Kathryn Casey said...

Wonderful post, Jenna. It rings true for my experiences as well. Matthew is lucky to have you as his guide.

Anonymous said...

Great post Jenna.
Myself I have to do 9 final exams to have my degree on journalism
I wish in here (I'm from argentina)there where more crime or investigation shows but no. Maybe the do some shows with 10 cases or less but then that's it and the shows end.
I wish there where coz I allways like to investigate cases sence I was little girl.