Felice Belman

Editor, The Concord Monitor

Concord, NH

[NH-E 201]

When I started at The Monitor, I was a news reporter. And at first I didn’t have any particular beat at all – when I very first got here. And one day I came to work and a kid – a young boy – had disappeared. He had been swimming with some friends and presumably had drowned, but they couldn’t find him. So I was sent out to cover this thing.

And it was awful. They had the Fish and Game Department divers looking for him, and his family was on one bank and the friends – 11 and 12-year-old boys – they were waiting on the bank of the river. The day went on and on and on. And it was just a very grim scene.

I had never covered anything tragic like that. And I was sort of paralyzed by it. And I had in my head that a decent person won’t disturb these mourning families, so I didn’t approach the family of the missing boy – who did turn up dead – or his friends or the parents of the friends. And I wrote a very sort of wooden account from officialdom. And I thought I had done the right thing.

And I came in the next morning and got screamed at by the parents of the dead boy who said,” We saw you there. You saw us. You never approached us. How dare you presume to write about our son without even talking to us? We wanted to tell you about him and you blew us off essentially.”

And I was so stunned by that. And I ended up going – I sat down with them and a whole roomfull of this kid’s friends and ended up writing what I should’ve done in the first place, which was a story about this kid not just about the Fish and Game divers.

That’s not the reaction you would get from everybody, but it just – to me it was such a powerful lesson. You always try. You always do the hard thing. Maybe it’ll work, maybe it won’t. But to avoid that is sort of at your peril because there was such a human story there, and it took me two tries to get it right. And I had a forgiving boss, and he made room for two stories in the paper.

But I just thought too – these were people who appreciated what The Monitor could do for them, which was allow them to talk about their son. And they knew – they wanted to do that. Not everybody will do that, but they wanted to. And I was to be their conduit, and I had sort of blown it. So it was – that’s gonna’ stay with me forever. I’ve gotten tougher about those kind of stories. It is but it’s not so hard not to make that awful phone call.

And it’s easy for me to encourage young reporters to do those hard things, because I’ve gone through it.