Late on a Tuesday night, with the paper close to being finished, I’m doing the final top edit — the last review, to find any gaffes that have gotten by us as the deadline looms. I reread two stories about harbor dredging by Josephine de La Bruyère and find myself smiling, even though I’m tired. It’s her account of how the leverman controls the six-blade cutterhead, the spud position, and the winches as the dredge crabs forward a few inches at a time.
It’s fun to be learning this vivid vocabulary of gunk removal, but the piece has also got me thinking about the person writing this stuff. She’s not an engineer or a maritime expert but just a keen observer at the very beginning of her career, a history major from the city, taking a year off from college. I’m sure she did not plan on spending a December day on a dredge when she took this job.
But she leaped at the assignment when it was offered, because she possesses something that is thrilling to be around: curiosity. That’s what made it possible for Jo to write that early installment of “the Dredge Report,” back in October, about the people who gathered at the Wellfleet marina every day to watch the dredge do its work while they ate their lunches and greeted old friends.
People sometimes ask me what we look for in reporters. Curiosity is the shortest and best answer. That’s why I think the reporter’s profession is not something you can train for in journalism school.
It takes a certain kind of person to stay curious week in and week out about the goings-on at town hall or the local health clinic. In the time of Covid, some stories turn out to be matters of life and death, but even now, sometimes, they are about that artist from Colombia who found his way to the Outer Cape and is working on a commission for Google from a low-tech artist’s studio. Or the woman who opened a paper shop and has a thing for good pencils (full disclosure: I’m addicted to my Palomino Blackwings). Or the surprising details of getting your female goats serviced by a rented buck named Lance Romance.
I’m lucky to work with people who are genuinely curious about such things, who know that the protocols and policies for coronavirus vaccinations must be reported, but that we also want to know what it feels like to get one: that there are mixed emotions, a sense of relief tinged with guilt because you’re high on the list but your husband isn’t, and a resurgence of optimism tempered with caution and the prospect of a long, hard winter.