Yesterday I was walking from the transient tent at Ali Al Salem where I bunked the previous night to Tent 1, on my way to my showtime for the flight to Kandahar.

I was thinking of the Shylock speech in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice: If you prick us, do we not bleed?

Or my modern version: If you punch me, do I not bruise? (metaphorically speaking, of course.)

I have received regular feedback on my blog posts. Most of it is from grateful readers who thank me for sharing what the soldiers aren’t willing to share. There are wives and mothers (and fathers and husbands) who have said they like knowing a little bit more about what life is like for their loved ones serving in Afghanistan. And such positive feedback has prompted me to continue writing and posting my thoughts.

After some feedback yesterday, I decided that it might be useful for my readers if I would clarify the difference between the reporting I do as a journalist (for newspapers) and the writing I do for my blog. In this modern world of instant communication with “citizen journalists” and iPhones, it might be unclear what’s journalism and what’s not, i.e. what is fact-based reporting and what is personal commentary. And of course, it’s particularly confusing when journalists have become brand names, inserting themselves into reporting and stories.

I am an old-school reporter, trained in the traditions of research, observation and critical thinking, using multiple, named sources and direct quotes. I learned from tough teachers. The best teachers. The late Harold Dorn and Rob Phillips (retired Navy) at Oregon State University. Back in the day when we had one of the best journalism programs and student newspapers in the country (sure I’m biased.) In Dorn’s class, if there was even one factual error—typo, misspelled name, wrong date, anything—you got an “F” for the story. You failed.

Dr. Rob, as we affectionately called him, emphasized the imperative of staying impartial. We were not to accept even so much as a cup of coffee from a source…and certainly not the swag and food that’s proffered to journalists these days. You didn’t want to project even the slightest hint that you could be bought. Buy your own coffee. Pay for your own lunch. Handle your own travel expenses. Be above and beyond suspicion or reproach.

Now you might understand why I had never been on an embed before reporting on the 1/25th SBCT and why the entire embed experience before, during and after generated significant reflection and self-examination. (More on that in another blog.)

As an embedded reporter, I am writing for a newspaper or magazine and its readers. I conduct research in advance and in the field, both by checking written materials and by interviewing sources. I make my own observations and I take care to use only direct quotes inside quotation marks. If it’s not a direct quote, i.e. exactly, word for word, what the person said, I paraphrase or I don’t use the quote.

I have a few principles that guide me. I seek to present a balanced and authentic representation of the people and events I’m covering. It is not an objective report. There’s no such thing as objective reporting. I am influenced by my own life experiences. I am a woman. A soldier’s daughter. I’ve traveled the world and I’m highly educated. All these things and so much more inform my perspective. I, therefore, strive to collect as much information as possible, to live the situation side-by-side, in this case, with the soldiers, and let the people I’ve interviewed tell the story in their own words as much as possible.

I will not be a part of the story and neither will my opinions. Such stories are for first-person essays or opinion page essays.

My blog writing is completely different from my newspaper writing. It is personal. I intend my blog posts to be a sort of journal that allows readers to learn about the stories behind the story I reported in the paper.

Though my posts are not traditional news stories, sometimes I do use the blog to post stories that didn’t make it into a paper, such as my story on the “Window Lickers,” the combat engineers who do road clearance. There I did the reporting and let the lieutenant tell the story of his men’s dedication and hard work. I wanted to share that story when it didn’t get ink in the paper.

Most of my blog posts, however, are intended to share the behind-the-scene moments that wouldn’t make it into a story. And to share a bit about myself and my experiences.

I’m a deeply private person and each time I write a blog post, I’m keenly aware that I’m leaving myself open to judgment and criticism. Again, my guiding principles are personal and ethical; I consider my work a calling and a public service. I do my best to report what I see and feel. I put myself out there. I lead with my heart.

And if you prick me, I do bleed.

I just won’t let you know it.

Well, now I have.

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