A man who read my column called “Pebbles in our shoes” got to the end of my thoughts about learning that we have had an accused murderer living in our midst for several years . Then he made an observation, and then asked an important question.

“I counted 41 times the word ‘I’ in that piece,” wrote a man named Tim Hench. “Who is this article actually about?”

I do not know who Tim is, but he does raise an important question. Most journalism professors would say that using the first person pronoun 41 times is not a good idea.

Actually, however, I used the word “I” 53 times, although in one of those instances I was quoting someone else.

There are rules in journalism about using “I” and the main rule is: Don’t.

But like most rules, rule, the No-I Rule comes with a few exceptions.

In this case, I was writing to people who (like me) were surprised, frightened, spooked – and to use someone else’s words, creeped out – to learn that someone we considered a nice guy and a friend could be accused of doing something horrendous nearly 15 years ago.

I was writing to people who sent their kids to school with that guy; people who went to church with him, or saw him hanging out at a local bar; people who considered him a friendly, helpful neighbor.

I wrote “I” that often because I wanted people who read that column to understand that I was dealing with many of the same emotions they were feeling. I wanted them to understand that it was ok to feel that way; I wanted, through that column, to help them face our feelings together.

One of my favorite modern authors/journalists is Peggy Noonan. Currently a commentator and columnist, Peggy used to write radio broadcasts for Dan Rather before spending two years writing speeches for Ronald Reagan. She was at work in the White House the day the Challenger exploded, killing the astronauts and the teacher.

“I did what CBS trained me to do: Handle the horror by writing the show,” Peggy Noonan wrote in her memoir, “What I Saw at the Revolution.”

When something horrible happens, I remember those words; I realize that part of our job as journalists is to discuss the bad things in a way that helps people understand what happened and how to deal with how they feel.

Using I allowed me, in that column, to say, “This is how I feel, and it’s probably similar to how you feel, and what we feel is OK. And together we will get through this.”

Who was that article about?

Tim, it was about all of us who, for the first time in our lives, had to sort out feelings about finding something unimaginably awful about someone we thought we knew.

I wanted those who felt that way to know that they were not alone in this new, uncomfortable feeling, and that we, together, would face it.

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Comments (2)

Nice article, Dean
But you do quite well in your articles and when I see one with your headline I
read it. Char Fye
By: Charlotte Fye on February 14th 4:29pm
I I I I I I love your articles & stories!! Use it as much as you like!
By: Patty Scott on February 15th 1:00pm

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