I remember a quiet Saturday in New York, friends over for dinner, and the phone ringing. Yitzhak Rabin had been shot at a rally in Tel Aviv. “So sorry, Anne…” A few hours later we were on the El Al flight to Tel Aviv, jammed with mourning Jews and anxious journalists. Some 15 years later, a 1:00 am call: A normally placid night desk editor frantic on the line: It’s a huge quake, Tom… The news nerves went haywire. In an hour we were in the office, many of us, and we would just about live there, for some time, as the waves struck and the nuclear plants burned on the Japanese coastline.

Times have changed, of course, and the news and the ways we cover it are dramatically different, but the adrenalin remains.

I can remember so well the pang of angst I used to feel each morning with the thud of the newspaper hitting the front door, worried always that I might have missed something that had turned up on The New York Times front page. “Where are we with this?” Peter Jennings would ask, and woe unto me if I didn’t have either an account of what we were doing, or a convincing case that the story wasn’t worth our pursuit.

Today very little in the Times or other morning delivery surprises, not because it isn’t compelling or important, but because we have likely read or heard about most of the stories by the time the physical paper hits the stoop. Now it’s that middle-of-the-night call or the beep of the Blackberry.

Now, my news job is ending. The news, of course, is not. Will a new life, a non-journalistic life, slow the adrenalin flow? As I said, I am not so sure. The effect of all this, over the years, is to make it virtually impossible to listen to the news without that reflex kicking in. A huge newspaper takeout about elephant poaching in the Congo—didn’t we talk about doing that? What about the miners in South Africa? And why haven’t we gotten visas for Syria?

I really don’t consider myself a neurotic person, but all this time spent chasing news rewires the nervous system. It will be interesting, I think, to see how that system responds, if for example, the Assad regime falls. Or Israel strikes Iran. Obviously such globe-altering events will always move any of us who care about the world; but will they still carry that extra jolt, that need to do something that I so often felt, over the last 28 years?

I cannot say. I know my wife and children hope they won’t.

Related stories:

What a Year! A foreign editor looks back in wonder at 2011


An Appreciation of Peter Jennings, One Year Later

 

Thomas Nagorski is executive vice president of the Asia Society.