When I start­ed out in TV news in Bing­ham­ton, New York in 2000, every assign­ment seemed to be out of my com­fort zone. My par­ents raised me and my five sib­lings in Tenafly, New Jer­sey with a heavy empha­sis on man­ners and respect­ing oth­er peo­ple. They always encour­aged me to speak my mind, but they prob­a­bly would have frowned upon me knock­ing vig­or­ous­ly on someone’s front door just after their rel­a­tive has endured a cat­a­stroph­ic acci­dent. As an inex­pe­ri­enced reporter, I used to hope that peo­ple wouldn’t answer the door. I wished I was invis­i­ble when they did, as I apolo­get­i­cal­ly explained that I was there to ask ques­tions about an injury, death, or scan­dal. I was embar­rassed to be there, ashamed to be impos­ing on their tragedies. I gen­er­al­ly avoid con­flict in my per­son­al life, and I dread­ed being scold­ed or yelled at, even though, deep down, I thought I deserved it.

Get­ting out of my com­fort zone to write More After the Break meant con­sid­er­ing whether my pres­ence had exac­er­bat­ed or mit­i­gat­ed a family’s pain — whether our news sto­ries had helped shine a light on impor­tant issues or direct­ed unwant­ed atten­tion on a per­son who was already hurt­ing. Report­ing an accu­rate sto­ry is always a para­mount con­cern. But equal­ly inter­est­ing to me is how the peo­ple I have met in this busi­ness con­tin­ue to influ­ence my choic­es long after I leave their liv­ing rooms or the break­ing-news scene. As much as the sto­ries we write for the news are intend­ed to leave a last­ing impres­sion on our view­ers, they make an indeli­ble mark on us jour­nal­ists as well.

Many of the peo­ple I have cov­ered on the news turn to reli­gion and faith for com­fort fol­low­ing a major life cri­sis. I, too, have searched for spir­i­tu­al guid­ance and a high­er pur­pose after bear­ing wit­ness to the agony of so many. I con­vert­ed to Judaism at age thir­ty and am still learn­ing how to apply its lessons to my every­day life. I was raised Protes­tant, and I spent most Sun­day morn­ings in church with my fam­i­ly. I met my future hus­band, Scott Ost­feld, in Ital­ian Renais­sance Sculp­ture class at Colum­bia. We were mar­ried by a rab­bi and a min­is­ter in 2003 and agreed to raise our chil­dren Jew­ish. When I was preg­nant with my son Trevor in 2006, I did what any good reporter would do: I researched and inter­viewed, enrolling in a con­ver­sion class in Mor­ris­town, New Jer­sey, even though I had no inten­tion of con­vert­ing. I sim­ply want­ed to learn, so I could be a well-informed mom of a Jew­ish child.

I con­vert­ed to Judaism at age thir­ty and am still learn­ing how to apply its lessons to my every­day life.

In my first year of moth­er­hood, I real­ized that while I nev­er object­ed to prac­tic­ing a dif­fer­ent reli­gion than my hus­band, I felt dis­con­nect­ed, a par­tial par­tic­i­pant in my son’s reli­gious life. Whether it was at his bris, or in Mom­my and Me class at the Unit­ed Syn­a­gogue of Hobo­ken, I felt like I was stand­ing on the side­lines. Hav­ing been raised with a strong sense of faith by my par­ents, I want­ed to give my chil­dren that same gift. In ear­ly 2008, a month before my daugh­ter Vivian was born, I con­vert­ed to Judaism.

Tak­ing the con­ver­sion class offered me the oppor­tu­ni­ty to reflect more deeply on Jew­ish Holy Days I had glossed over in the past, when I sat half-lis­ten­ing in tem­ple with my in-laws, wait­ing for the Eng­lish lan­guage por­tion to start. I was par­tic­u­lar­ly intrigued by the tra­di­tion lead­ing up to Yom Kip­pur, when it is cus­tom­ary to con­tact peo­ple you feel you have wronged and apol­o­gize. From my rab­bi, David-Seth Kir­sh­n­er at Tem­ple Emanu-El in Closter, New Jer­sey, I learned that this humil­i­ty is intend­ed to help us acknowl­edge our mis­takes and move for­ward into the new year with healthy relationships.

I won­der if part of the rea­son I want­ed to seek out peo­ple from my news past for More After the Break was to deter­mine whether I owed them apolo­gies as well. Did they resent that I monop­o­lized the time after a trau­ma when they should have been com­fort­ed by fam­i­ly and friends? Did they wish that their family’s strug­gle had been kept pri­vate? Did they feel they didn’t have a choice when I came knocking?

Dozens have slammed the door in my face before I’ve even fin­ished my inter­view request, a straight­for­ward refusal I have grown to accept. But the prospect of some­one agree­ing to an inter­view, and then that acqui­es­cence metas­ta­siz­ing to regret once their sto­ry has gone pub­lic, is far more upsetting.

My con­ver­sa­tions with the peo­ple I have fea­tured in these pages have been com­pli­cat­ed, but ulti­mate­ly reas­sur­ing. The pas­sage of time since my ini­tial reports aired has high­light­ed how con­struc­tive change can and does hap­pen when unjust and trag­ic events are pub­li­cized. As a local news reporter, I cov­er the best and the worst of what hap­pens in my home state of New Jer­sey. I would like to believe that by broad­cast­ing grief and pain and injus­tice, we inspire intro­spec­tion in our view­ers. Our news sto­ries are proof that no mat­ter how hard we try to pro­tect our loved ones, they can be cru­el­ly injured or even killed. Know­ing that we don’t have total con­trol is fright­en­ing and unnerv­ing. The anti­dote is to enjoy every day, and to be kind to each oth­er. The moral ambi­gu­i­ty of what I do for a liv­ing only emerges as a pos­i­tive if the sto­ries I write have the same rip­ple effect on you as they have had on me.

Jen Max­field is an Emmy-award win­ning TV news reporter and anchor who has cov­ered New York City for two decades. Max­field is also an Adjunct Pro­fes­sor at the Colum­bia Grad­u­ate School of Jour­nal­ism. Max­field has had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to meet tens of thou­sands of peo­ple cov­er­ing news events over a wide range of top­ics, includ­ing pol­i­tics, schools, crim­i­nal jus­tice, health, busi­ness, weath­er, and human inter­est stories.