One of the toughest days Castleton State College alumnus Don Lehman ever had was when he rounded the corner at a murder scene and saw a woman lying on a bed with her head caved in. “It takes a strong stomach sometimes,” said Lehman, a 15-year police reporter for The Post-Star in Glens Falls, New York.
Lehman, a former colleague of Communication Professor Dave Blow, spoke last semester to Blow’s Newsgathering and Writing class about life covering the police beat.
He talked about murder scenes, finding loopholes to fool police, the profession’s low pay, how the Internet has changed his job — and being threatened for what he has written.
He told of a threatening e-mail he had just received for a story he’d written 12 years ago about a man arrested for stealing from a paper mill.
“Someday you will pay for what you did to me,” he said, quoting the e-mail.
Asked by students about some of the more gruesome things he has had to cover, Lehman named a police chief raping his 7-year-old daughter, a 7-month old baby who was recently murdered, and the above mentioned murder scene where a woman was beaten with a hammer.
“You become desensitized,” he said, adding that his wife often asks him how he deals with it. “I try not to take it home.”
Despite the negativity, the 39-year-old Lehman said that he loves his job and “the thrill of the chase.”
But he said it is not easy, and requires earning trust and respect from police and court officials you deal with every day.
“Any police officer can be a source at any time. You want to talk to the person who was actually there, not the captain who heard it from the sergeant . Sometimes people don’t want you to find out things. Things they just don’t want public,” he said.
Lehman said he has always loved news and was perhaps pushed into journalism by his dad. He said he would tag along with his father, a part-time reporter, to high school games on the weekend and would write his own story when he got home.
He said he came to Castleton to be a teacher, but “got bored by education.”
Around his junior year, he had a good journalism adviser (former Professor Terry Dalton) and found writing news stories to be fun.
After he graduated, he got a job at The Granville Sentinel and then moved on to The Post-Star. Fifteen years later, he still loves going to work every day.
“There are few, if any, days I’m not excited to go to work. It’s something different every day,” he said.
While other reporters have tried to climb the ladder to get to bigger newspapers, Lehman is content where he is, although he said he has considered starting his own paper in the future.
“I’ve had chances to go to other places, but I’m generally happy where I am,” Lehman said. “I have two kids, a wife with a home business, and we have roots in the community.