I only remember one part of the first city council meeting I ever attended.
It was fall 2007, and I was studying journalism at Southern Illinois University. For a class assignment, I was supposed to go to the Carbondale City Council meeting and write a story about it. I had just started working at the student newspaper, so I tagged along with its government reporter.
The part of the meeting I remember was perhaps the most innocuous. Council members were acknowledging the police chief for something relatively normal, like a 20-year anniversary with the department, and everyone in the room was applauding. Politely, I did too.
Until I heard a frustrated noise come from the throat of the young man next to me. He grabbed my arm. "We are REPORTERS," he hissed. "We DON'T CLAP. Ever."
It was my first lesson on the extent to which journalists endeavor to keep their feelings out of their work. Over the years, I've learned that many reporters treat the matter differently; some won't vote in a primary election, for fear of revealing their politics, while others see no reason they can't let a few tears fall when they cover a funeral. Though there are ethical guidelines we all follow (no political bumper stickers on your car, no writing stories about groups to which you belong), there are also personal choices we all make.
I try my best to remain balanced and fair, but I never try to forget that I'm human. Occasionally, I clap.
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When 17-year-old Sam Binkley sank a basket for the Eisenhower girls basketball team on Feb. 9, I cheered her on. I couldn't help but be moved by Sam's determination to get back on the court after a stroke in October 2010 severely impaired her mobility on her left side.
I wrote several stories about Sam, including a long one in February 2011 and a follow-up last week. In between, I thought about her sometimes, usually when I was struggling with my own spirit's reluctance to take on a simple physical task such as getting out of bed in the morning.
The first time I met Sam, this teenager who loves basketball so much that she got one tattooed on her, she told me flat-out that she would be playing again. So obvious was her tenacity that I didn't doubt it, though she was sitting in a wheelchair when she made the statement.
Granted, there is a long distance between where Sam is physically and where she'd like to be. Her play on Feb. 9 was pre-arranged and short. She can't run or jump, and she can't move her left arm. But she is still fighting those limitations, attending therapy three times a week and taking every opportunity to laugh about her situation. Sam is blunt about the challenges she faces, and that's why I'm inclined to believe her when she says she'll overcome them.
If that's not worthy of applause, I don't know what is.