In July 2013, four buildings burned down at The Grove apartments in Pullman. They were still under construction so, fortunately, there were no injuries.
I was the Moscow-Pullman Daily News reporter on call that weekend and got a 3 a.m. phone call from our photographer who had heard about it on his scanner. My groggy brain snapped to attention. I threw on whatever clothes I could find in the dark. I was out the door in minutes.
I chose not to brush my teeth (it would have taken too long), so Pullman Fire Chief Mike Heston, I apologize nearly seven years later for my terrible morning breath while I interviewed you that day.
As I sped to Pullman, I remember seeing an orange glow over the hills. “Holy crap,” I thought. “This is going to be nuts.”
I arrived on scene to find dozens of WSU students evacuated from neighboring apartment buildings. The 100-foot-high flames at The Grove were so hot they’d melted the vinyl siding on those nearby apartments.
I ran around like a crazy person, conducting interviews, taking pictures and video and posting updates on the Daily News’ social media accounts. I tried to get as close to the fire as I could. A firefighter told me to step back. I did, and just seconds later there was an explosion — likely from a construction vehicle’s gas tank. Thank you, kind firefighter, for doing your job and keeping me safe.
On pure adrenaline, I worked 18 hours that day gathering information and making sure facts were accurate. I wanted to put out the best, most comprehensive story faster than anyone else. I finally went home that evening to shower after catching a whiff of myself. I lost about eight pounds in a week from the pure chaos of writing follow-up stories and chasing down elusive representatives from The Grove’s parent company.
The day after the fire, the Daily News print issue flew off the stands. The page designer nailed the design, and I’ve never been more proud of a story. In fact, I have that day’s paper framed and hung in my home.
One of my favorite memories from that whole experience happened when I was gathering information on the scene. A student asked me, “Are you a journalist?”
“You’re damn right I am.”
I didn’t actually answer like that (had to be professional and whatnot), but that’s what I was thinking. I was a local reporter here on the Palouse for about three years. Small potatoes, when you consider the long tenures of many of the print and broadcast journalists out there. But that experience made a lifelong impact on me. And it gave me an inside look at just how intense and challenging journalism is.
I share all of this with you because I’m deeply concerned about the attitude toward journalists right now.
Every day, locally and nationally, I see unbelievable vitriol hurled at news outlets and individual reporters. I know I received countless emails, phone calls and voicemails that went beyond constructive criticism to just plain mean. I know reporters who have been directly threatened out in the field and in the office. I’ve read stories of reporters being physically assaulted for doing their job.
And now we have a president who refers to the media as “the enemy of the people.” A man who verbally attacks specific reporters, no doubt emboldening those who already harbor negative feelings toward the media.
To the journalists who are still in it, I see you and I thank you for your work — for all the hours you put in that we, as readers, don’t see. We need you now more than ever. Keep seeking the truth and reporting it (to quote the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics).
To the general public, remember that there is a real human behind that byline. I encourage you to criticize coverage when you feel it’s unfair, inaccurate or poorly written. No journalist is perfect. Heck, feel free to criticize this column. I’m happy to continue this discussion.
But please, keep it civil.
Meredith Metsker is an Idaho native, University of Idaho alumna and 10-year Moscow resident. A former journalist, she now works in marketing for Emsi, serves on the board of directors for Sojourners’ Alliance and is a big fan of civic engagement.