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Writing about controversial subjects is tough


In the business of journalism, reporting on controversial subjects lands you the Pulitzer Prize.

Sara Ganim won for her coverage of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s breaking report about Watergate put them in the history books.

But this girl — this reporter — hates controversy.

During my almost four months at the Times-Journal, I’m dealing with more and more. I dreaded asking Hugh Taylor, the Ruhama principal who was elected superintendent of the DeKalb County Schools, to justify his children’s attendance at a private school.

During election season, I didn’t want to ask Circuit Clerk Pam Simpson and her challenger, Ben West, for comments about state GOP Chairman Bill Armistead’s press release about Simpson’s alleged “lack of morals” during the campaign.

I hated having to repeatedly call former state Sen. Lowell Barron’s hospital room, attempting to get the status on his recovery from a tractor accident that broke his neck – although I must note he was extremely nice about it, and that probably doesn’t really qualify.

I hate controversy. I’d be perfectly happy writing about features about female firefighters in Henegar, a local woman who committed the ‘26 Acts of Kindness’ campaign following Sandy Hook.

I want to write about Rainsville Technology Inc. employees participating in 5K races and new nonprofits opening to help local cancer patients.
But in this business, we are here to inform the public. And to give both sides a chance to tell their story.

Do I enjoy busting up city council meetings with unpleasant questions? Of course not, although I’m sure many people will feel that way right. I would much rather report on the good things a city is doing. It’s difficult to repeatedly ask the hard questions.

But it has to be done. Absolutely. It is impossible to write only the good, and when stories come along, the other party – whoever he or she happens to be – must be given the chance to comment. We as journalists must hold people – especially politicians – accountable. Whether or not I hate being the one to ask, and whether or not I’m shut down with the “no comment at this time” line.

In life, there will always be scandal, and because of this fact, I will occasionally catch a story that isn’t warm and fuzzy.

While I’m told I will eventually develop thick skin, there’s a part of me that hopes I won’t.

Because I never want to be someone who revels in controversy, who thrives off reporting the unpleasant.

Ganim can stick with her Pulitzer. I’ll stick with the acts of kindness.

Emily Hayes is a staff writer for the Times-Journal. Her column appears Thursdays, where this was first published. Her email address is

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