Citizen Green: Distance running, metaphor for journalism and life


Jordan Greenby Jordan Green

The light rain on Sunday afternoon tamped down the temperature to the mid-sixties, just enough to dampen the sidewalks in downtown Greensboro and suppress the new pollen. I felt truly alive for the first time in weeks as I felt my feet strike the pavement and my lungs expand to take in the springtime air.

I’d been out of practice, letting the cold weather and work obligations deter me from running, but the mental sluggishness and irritability I’d been experiencing told me it was time to get back in shape. I like to think of long-distance running as a metaphor, almost a physical manifestation, for the discipline of journalism — certainly investigative reporting, but really any kind of insightful, value-added journalism. The race goes to the persistent, not to the swift. Like journalism, guitar playing, singing — really any worthwhile pursuit — it really gets good when you learn to relax and fall into the rhythm. The magic for me comes from putting everything else aside and deciding to go the distance, forgetting for the moment about the time. It’s a clean-living psychedelic experience, if you will, aided by a mind-altering substance called endorphins.

Rounding the curve of Davie Street and heading along a familiar route around downtown, I thought back to this time eight years ago when, similarly inspired by the thaw of spring, I started running a couple times a week, each time pushing myself to go a little further, until eventually I felt confident that I could run a half-marathon. I remember finishing the course around 9:30 a.m. on a Saturday in early May right before the presidential primary, and then limping from strained leg muscles but exhilarated, driving to Mooresville to see a campaign appearance by candidate Hillary Clinton. For what it’s worth, the candidate shared the stage that day with retired NASCAR driver Junior Johnson and then-Gov. Mike Easley.

Putting aside the sense of accomplishment and excitement from finishing a half-marathon and covering a presidential candidate in the same day, the experience reminds me that campaigns come and go, and that most of life happens in small increments instead of monumental contests. I’ve run when I was wracking my brains for a key piece of information or trying to figure out how to approach a sensitive source to unlock the riddle of a major investigative piece. I’ve run when the data I need to review to create an illuminating composite seemed overwhelming. I’ve run when I simply needed to jolt my perspective and look at a subject differently.

Running functions as a reminder that nothing happens immediately or without hard work. Many days I’ve tried to will my career and our weekly newspaper to make dramatic leaps forward. I want to improve my own work and to produce stories with more impact. And together with my colleagues, Brian Clarey and Eric Ginsburg, I want to increase the stature of our newspaper and increase our readership. If we get all those things right, I know no one in our shop would mind earning a little more money as a byproduct of producing quality journalism. We may have significant breakthroughs from herculean efforts here and there, but ultimately I have to remind myself that our success will come from simply doing good work week after week.

As my particular form of meditation, running makes me mindful and present in the moment. It focuses me on my breath and simply putting one foot in front of the other. I can stop dwelling on the past and worrying about the future, but at the subconscious level I am thinking about the small increments that add up to something worthwhile.

About the small stories that ferret out some significant fact, illuminate some person’s challenges or reveal some poignant, heartbreaking or uplifting aspect of humanity. About the monthly house payments my wife and I make that slowly but surely build equity, and about tearing out the ivy from the hardwood trees and sweeping the sidewalk along the side of our house to contribute to our neighborhood’s quality of life. About joining my wife and 2-year-old daughter at Bur-Mil Park and putting together a $6 kite to entertain our daughter, even though she cried because she thought I was running away from her when I tried to put it in the air. About broadening my base of knowledge by checking a book out of the library or subscribing to a new magazine, and holding my daughter in my lap as she names letters and colors in a picture book.

No, they’re not dramatic gestures or accomplishments, just small things that I hope are right for the moment and will accumulate into something decent over the long run.