Accuracy is his must
By Châu Mai, Emerson College
An interview with Mark Arsenault published on Aug 21, 2011 by thebostonglobe.
Mark Arsenault wanted to become an author. But, all the jobs he had done since he was in college were for the press, from a newspaper deliverer, a newspaper truck driver, a Sunday paper section “inserter,” to a paste-up artist, and a journalist after his graduation in the summer of 1989.
The Boston Globe’s metro reporter of casino and gambling said every part of his job is interesting. He likes going to people’s houses and having them show him their lives. He likes talking about his stories with other reporters and editors. He likes getting to know people that “you never would have a chance to know otherwise.”
“The part I love the most is I love writing when I have good materials, when I have everything I need. You just sit back, have a cup of coffee and start to write, and know that you will have a good story,” said Arsenault in an interview at The Globe.
The Gardener resident entered the press with no background in journalism except the fact that his parents met at The Gardner News where they didn’t work in the newsroom but sales and accounting departments.
For the Worcester-based Assumption College graduate, journalism was a way to realize his passion for writing which was inspired by the writing course taught by an excellent professor in the last semester. But, when he started doing journalism, he found himself falling for “an exciting, really challenging and rewarding job.”
The love for journalism, however, was not enough to guarantee Arsenault’s success in the job he described as “long hours, weird hours and low-paid that has kicked a lot of people out.” The Providence Journal’s former reporter thinks accuracy is paramount in journalism. “If you can’t do accurate things, you can’t do this job.”
Making a mistake thus is considered the worst part of his job. “When I make a mistake, I got very mad at myself and just want to destroy the earth.”
That’s why he is very cautious when he proves and fact checks the story at the end. “I check every single line in a story. I check even things I know by heart, every fact, every date.”
Without this habit, he would surely make what he called a “stupid mistake” when covering the blackout brought by the snowstorm last October. Thanks to putting all the names he’d got in the story through Google to make sure all correct, he found out one of the people was an accused cocaine trafficker.
“I can’t put this guy in the front-page story about power outage. So I got him out of the story at the last minute. That was a lesson about always checking, checking everybody in a story,” said Arsenault who had worked at five newspapers including his hometown one, The Gardner News, before joining The Globe as a politics reporter at its Washington bureau in May 2010.
He thinks a journalist also needs to be empathetic “to see things from the point of view of a person you’re interviewing or writing about.” In other words, reporters have to be willing to let the news guide the story rather than giving many preconceptions.
Curiosity is another must-have, according to Arsenault whose wife is also a reporter. “You probably are not able to do the job if you are not very curious.”
When it comes to the relationship with editors, the 45-year-old said a reporter has to be reasonable, willing to collaborate because he thinks the process between reporters and editors should be a process of collaboration.
“My [current] editor is wonderful. She has a lot of respect for the knowledge I bring to the story, I bring whatever passion I put into the writing, the skill I put into making the sound of the words. She’s a good respect of keeping that individuality in the story.”
Many editors, he said, tend just to take a piece and make everything sound the same, “like all coming out from the same factory.” Arsenault has been lucky to have a lot of editors who always respected the voice he brought into the stories.
However, he confessed he disliked some editors because they didn’t understand the difficulties reporters sometimes faced when they get stuff, they had questions about the story that were off the point or put unnecessary information into the story.
“Ninety eight percent of the time, the change I found made no difference, I just let the stuff go mostly. Two percent of the time, you fight like a maniac just to protect the way you want the story happen.”
Arsenault said there is nothing wrong with that kind of collaborative fighting, but stressed reporters shouldn’t fight with everything, just when things are important in terms of the words, the sound and the facts of the story.
It was the argument with his former editor at The Lowell Sun, who rejected his feature story about homeless heroin addicts living under a railroad bridge, which led to the birth of his first book “Spiked” about a murder inside the city’s heroin trade in 2003.
“All the plots just came right out of the things I’ve heard and seen as a journalist.”
Arsenault said he is working on his fifth book but didn’t reveal its content.
When asked if he were forced to choose between journalism and mystery writing, Arsenault said: “I would choose being a journalist because being a mystery writer is less serious and it affects the world less. You have more weight as a journalist.”
(Do all the good you can
In all the ways you can
To al the souls you can
In every place you can
At all the time you can
With all the zeal you can
As long as ever you can)