There are days on this job.
Part of the appeal of working in journalism is also usually its curse: You just don’t know what will come at you the next day, hour or even minute.
Tuesday was such a day for me.
I woke up that morning very tired because I’d been coping with the crud. (I had reached the stage where, if you asked me a question, I couldn’t guarantee what sounds would come out of my mouth.) As it turned out, that was the easiest part of the day.
The rest ran like this:
• I came into work and did what has become a daily ritual: writing an update story on South Dakota’s COVID-19 numbers. It was Tuesday, so I knew the numbers were going to be up coming off the weekend.
What I saw was the active cases continued a climb that began more than a week earlier, and hospitalizations shot up by 24%. These numbers are trends, and it takes a while to make meaningful headway in either category.
Tuesday’s report indicated we were steadily losing the gains we had been making earlier in the fall. It felt more and more like last fall. (See last week’s column for more on that adventure.)
• Press & Dakotan sports editor James Cimburek then stopped by and told me that the writer assigned to cover the USD-Oklahoma women’s basketball game in Vermillion that night was sick. Since we were already spread thin on the sports front, this was probably going to force us to rely on a USD-generated story for something that was both a big game and a big deal: Schools like Oklahoma don’t come visiting to Vermillion too often.
A couple hours later, our news staff was meeting to discuss the stories we had mapped out for the rest of the week. As James was going over his schedule (which, this week, is absolutely epic), an idea came to me. I turned to city reporter Rob Nielsen and asked, “Could you cover the Oklahoma game tonight?” and he said yes. I can guarantee you I have NEVER uttered those words before in any context. It was yet another reminder that the current sports beat is far, far different from what it was when I was sports editor long ago. The evolution is sometimes mesmerizing.
• Nevertheless, I DID have a sports assignment for that night — shooting photos at the Wagner-Elk Point-Jefferson volleyball game in Irene. But before I could head there, we had to sort out what was going on in Pierre and how we were going to place it in our Wednesday edition.
State lawmakers were in special sessions considering redistricting, which could have profound legislative repercussions, and weighing the potential impeachment of the attorney general in connection with a fatal vehicle accident last year. There was a lot of gravity tied to both. We may have grown numb to these things, but right now, we live in whirlwind times.
• After the busy day, the half-hour drive to Irene was a welcome break. There was a little trepidation on my part — I hadn’t shot volleyball photos in about five years, and I’d never been in the new Irene-Wakonda gym — so I left a little early to acclimate myself.
The drive up was relaxing, except for having to pull over along a dark Highway 46 when a Highway Patrol cruiser suddenly screamed west past me.
• I arrived in Irene with a few moments to spare and got my bearings. (The lighting in the new gym, by the way, rocks!) Meanwhile, there was a good crowd on hand and a lot of electricity in the air. These are the things I miss most about sports.
While the National Anthem was being sung, my phone pinged the arrival of a text message: There had been a shooting in Scotland, and at least a couple of people were hurt. I took a deep breath. “So that’s where the patrol car was going,” I surmised.
With that, everything changed. I was getting volleyball photos and, in between, texting messages back to the P&D about the shooting. The game, which had been my primary focus coming in, suddenly felt like a distraction. Being in two places at once — and in two realms (news and sports) simultaneously — can make you feel like you’re being pulled apart.
• After I felt I had enough photos, I headed back to Yankton. When I arrived at the office, I learned that two people had been killed in Scotland. (A third person died the next day.) It changed the situation even more.
So, I sat down and started downloading volleyball photos while editing a story about the shooting. After I slapped the story online, I then rearranged the front page I’d spent part of the afternoon trying to figure out, before returning to those photos for sorting and editing.
Later, after I had talked to reporter Randy Dockendorf about how we would handle the shooting follow-up the next day, I wearily went home with a cruddy headache and wound up like a top with places to go.
And that was my Tuesday, filled with the kind of unpredictable, sometimes amazing, sometimes terrible curves that make this job an experience to be endured as much as savored. Moments of wonder or mundanity and that ever-elusive feeling that everything is under control can turn on you with no notice at all, and when they do, you’re always on the clock, racing toward deadlines and online outreach — all the while thinking about the next day, whether you feel up to it or not.
Sometimes, this job builds you up and drags you down in instantaneous, unexpected ways.
And yet, it always draws me back for more.
Follow @kelly_hertz on Twitter.