Pictured is Jeremy Strobel, a mechanic for the Saginaw Transit Authority and Regional Services (STARS), our local bus service. I photographed him disinfecting a bus several days ago for a story in the newspaper.
As I was working, Glenn Steffens, STARS’s executive director, stood right next my shoulder, rattling off a steady stream of ideas, complaints, and policy changes at a rapid-fire pace. Everything he said was clear and precise and delivered with the barely-suppressed frustration of somebody who has run out of patience for bureaucratic incompetence but cannot simply take over other peoples’ jobs. I promised him that I was listening and told him to keep talking, even as I looked through my viewfinder in the opposite direction.
When the deep-clean was almost finished and Glenn seemed close to exhausting all of his points, I asked Jeremy, who had said nothing until then, if he had any thoughts on the matter. He replied through his mask, flatly, but not impatiently, “I think we’re doing the right thing,” before turning back to the rail he was scrubbing. No follow up questions seemed necessary, so I left it at that. Glenn filled in the silence by saying, “Jeremy’s a hard worker. We appreciate that hard work.” “Thank you,” said Jeremy.
Later, I began to think about just how different these two men’s approaches were to the same problem and just how effective each was in his respective role. I also wondered what sort of a spectrum lay in between the two roles, as I had experienced them on the bus, (Abstract to concrete? Macroscopic to microscopic? Proactive to reactive?) and where on it the work of journalists and storytellers might fall.
The answer matters, given how frequently nowadays huge swathes of the public mistake journalism for obfuscation and provocation. And as a journalist, I feel responsible for both asking and answering the question—not because I lack faith or doubt that my job is and has always been about solving problems, but because the way it does that seems to only be getting more complex in a world that is too.