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HOLLENBECK: Curiosity: The mark of a good journalist appears to be waning

April 4, 2012

Years ago my spouse told me that I asked more questions than anyone he'd ever known.
"Well, think about what I do every day," I countered. "Newspaper people are supposed to ask questions. That's the way we find out how to inform the rest of you folks."
Ed snickered, then said, "I can't prove it since I didn't know you earlier, but I'll venture a bet that you didn't start asking all these questions after you became a reporter. You probably were already that way."
He started to walk away, then turned and added, "I'll bet you were born that way."
An interesting concept that can't be proven at this late date. However, Cousin Sissy (Bettye Sue in Cotton Plant) supports Ed's theory to a point.
"You were always asking 'why' about everything," Sissy said. It didn't matter who was talking or what they were saying, you'd ask 'why?'
"You would interrupt people just to ask them 'why?', Sissy said.
"Paula (Sissy's sister) and I would correct you and tell you that you had to stop doing that — that you needed to listen to what other people had to say."
And she claims my response to that admonition was — you guessed it — "Why?"
News people learn early on to grasp onto the "Who, What, When, Where, Why and How" approach to writing.
Maybe I just took the "Why?" aspect too much to heart.
However, if you don't answer all of those basic questions, including the "why," people — especially people like me — just end up frustrated.
Curiosity can be a detriment at times. When there are unanswered questions facing me, they go through my thoughts all through the night. I just have to know the answers.
I'm sure that the adage "curiosity killed the cat" has some merit, because overly curious folks sometimes get into hot water just because they posed too many queries.
I say it's better to ask and maybe get the answer than never to ask and you don't have a gnat's chance of knowing.
Years ago I had an occasion to write a story about a well-known evangelist's daughter who had been severely injured in a motorcycle crash. She had been riding on the bike with a friend who also suffered injuries.
The account of the accident and its effect, which left the girl technically disabled (I believe she lost a leg, but my memory of the incident is getting fuzzy), was used in evangelistic film clips to illustrate how her faith got her through that experience.
I brought this up at a religious seminar in which the discussion focused on this incident. As part of the question-answer session, I asked the moderator what had happened to the girl's friend.
Not one word had been stated previously in regard to him other than to say he was operating the motorcycle.
The moderator looked at me and appeared stunned.
"I don't know," he said. "No one has ever asked about him before."
I caught myself before I said, "why not?" Or "why didn't you tell us in the first place."
That sort of thing drives me crazy.
I also vent when I read a story about an accident that ostensibly was caused by the driver striking an animal.
I want to know whether the animal survived and, if so, what was done to help it afterward.
Most of the time when I pose this kind of query, I'm told, "I don't know. We didn't ask."
And to that, I will ask "why?"
Why weren't you curious enough to want to know just because you wanted to know, too?
So I guess it comes down to the chicken-and-the-egg theory: Which came first?
Was Lynda born curious, or did Lynda become curious years later as a high school/then college/then professional journalist?
It may go down as one of the mysteries of the world.
But then most people would just say, "who cares?"

Lynda Hollenbeck is senior editor of The Saline Courier.
lyndahol@yahoo.com

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