Rebecca Hyman garners second place honors as Journalist of the Year by the Local Media Association (formerly known as SNA).
Tell us a little bit about your professional background – how long have you been in the news business? How did you get your start?
I got my start working freelance for the Woonsocket Call in Rhode Island. I remember a wonderful editor telling me my first few assignments sounded a little too much like term papers. But, he also encouraged me, saying I had a good eye for detail and nose for news. He gave me some timeless advice: never lead a graduation story with the weather and never focus on the politicians at a parade. I began working as a full-time staff writer at the Taunton Gazette in 1999 shortly after graduating from Brown University, where I studied political science. In 2005, I joined the staff of the Taunton Call. In 2008, I began covering Bridgewater and in 2011 added Raynham to my beat.
What is the most important quality a journalist should have?
A fierce attachment to reality. A good reporter prefers an ugly, unpleasant truth to a pretty illusion.
What is your most memorable story and why?
I wrote a series of articles on the homeless people living along the train tracks in Taunton. I will never forget them. The very first time my photographer and I took that long walk across a vacant lot to the railroad platform where they were living, I was terrified, but I was excited. I knew I was on to something. I told them who I was and that I wanted to tell their story, not romanticize them or vilify them but humanize them. And they embraced the idea. They were so gracious. One of them put down a piece of cardboard on the platform so I wouldn’t get dirty when I sat down beside them. They may not have had a home but they had plenty of hospitality. It started as a straight City Council meeting story about the problem of the homeless, who were a nuisance and eyesore downtown. But I sensed there was a story behind the story, the problem of homelessness.
What has been the biggest challenge for you as a journalist?
Overcoming my innate preference not to embarrass or humiliate people or make waves. There are times when a reporter must rock the boat, expose corruption, question authority. We wouldn’t be very effective watchdogs if we shrunk from confrontation. But I also think my conscience is one of my strengths. Losing sleep over controversial stories causes me to take pains to be fair and careful.
What is the thing you like best about your job?
Jim Lehrer once said God was doing some of his best work when he invented the profession of journalism, and I couldn’t agree more. I remember watching old Barbara Stanwyck movies in which she played a reporter. She’d stride in with her trench coat and press pass in her fedora, the only gutsy, funny woman on the screen, and I’d think, ‘That’s what I want to do.’ So many professions involve trying to sell something. Even law is about selling an idea, persuading a judge or a jury of something that may or may not be true. But reporters, at least in theory, have the enviable task of telling it like it is. Easier said than done, but what a privilege and honor to be allowed to give it a try.