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My story subject, my hero: one of the unique features of community journalism

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One of the pros — or cons, depending on the situation — of being a newspaper reporter in a relatively small, close-knit community is the virtual guarantee that you will run into the people you cover while you’re off-duty and your guard is down.

You see them at the grocery store, at social events, driving down the road or at lunch at a local restaurant.

And sometimes, you’ll see them coming into your bedroom at 12:30 in the morning with a sack full of a medical equipment.

That was the experience I had early Monday when two Guilfoyle paramedics came to rescue me from a particularly agonizing bout of back pain.

A week ago, I slipped a few times while running outside, aggravating a long-standing back injury. Over the course of the week, the injury seemed to keep getting worse until Saturday when it abruptly shifted from my lower back to my legs, which began to go numb.

I woke up around 12:30 a.m. Monday unable to feel much of anything from my waist down. Or, I could feel it but it felt tingly and painful.

And when I say that I couldn’t feel anything from the waist down, I mean anything.

Now, I consider myself to be a pretty tough guy in most situations, but when a man loses touch with one of his most prized possessions, it’s time to call for reinforcements.

This is where things get really interesting.

About two months ago, I wrote a story about what it’s like to be an emergency medical services provider in the north country. You can find that story here: http://wdt.me/AnYJvV.

One of the paramedics featured prominently in that story was a man named James F. Deavers.

Now, who should come walking through the door of my apartment Monday morning but Mr. Deavers himself.

It was a relief to see a familiar face and we even spoke briefly about the story — he seemed to approve of it. He also told me that his son used to live in my apartment a few years ago.

Talk about a small world.

These guys are professionals, so I doubt that it would have made much difference in the quality of care I received, but I’m glad they liked the story anyway.

It was a serendipitous encounter, leg numbness not withstanding.

At the hospital they checked my vitals and asked me to go to the bathroom, which I was thankfully able to do, thus ruling out a more serious condition. They gave me some medicine and sent me on my way. I’m still trying to get to the bottom of what’s causing all the commotion and I have more doctor’s appointments this week to figure that out. It’s likely just a bulging disc that is pressing on a nerve, but I’d like to get a professional opinion to back that up.

But enough about me. The point of this is that working in an area like the north country affords interesting opportunities to practice journalism with accountability.

When you do something wrong, people are quick to call you out on it. And, sometimes, when you do a passable job, people are also quick to compliment you.

It’s been my contention, in my short career, that journalists should be self-effacing individuals, gradually disappearing during the course of the story to allow their subjects, famous or nefarious, to take center stage.

Unfortunately, not every story we write is complimentary to the subject it covers.

I can assure you that this is not a product of malicious intent, but rather an attempt to render the truth, whatever and however troubling that may be.

So, for as many people I’m happy to run into on the street or welcome into my apartment in the wee hours of the morning when I am in a diminished state, there are a handful that I would not feel so comfortable seeing.

It’s never personal and writing a difficult story is often not very much fun for the journalist, contrary to popular belief.

But it’s that guarantee that you will be held accountable for what you write that makes practicing journalism in this place so special.

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