Because The Seattle Times is moving, the entire newsroom had to sort through cabinets jammed with notebooks. Some of those reminders of stories we've covered made me laugh; some stopped me cold. And I wondered what this work has done to us.

Share story

A copy of the letter Green River killer Gary L. Ridgway wrote to the court, apologizing “for killing all those ladys.”

Keep or toss?

Keep. It’s a morbid bit of state history, but also vexing as hell. Ridgway couldn’t even spell but was admittedly capable of killing 49 women — and maybe more than 90.

Here’s the bridal registry of Vili Fualaau and Mary Kay Letourneau, who married in 2005 after a tabloid-ready relationship that started when he was 12 and she was his 34-year-old teacher.

Keep, for no other reason than to show I don’t know anything anymore. They’re still together and so, I hope, is the set of egg cups they asked for.

Here’s the King County Superior Court ruling on Courtney Love vs. David Grohl, a case pitting Kurt Cobain’s widow against his former Nirvana bandmate.

Keep that one, too. Just in case she calls. At 2 a.m. And leaves a 17-minute message.

The Seattle Times newsroom is moving from its headquarters at Fairview Avenue North and John Street, where it has been since 1931, to an adjacent building on Boren Avenue North.

Before we did that, though, the entire newsroom had to unearth tombs of files and sort through cabinets jammed with notebooks.

Police shootings. Serial killers. Horse sex, depraved priests, and even the guy who sold his wife’s wedding dress on eBay with a listing that made national news (“How do you women wear this crap? I only had to walk 3 feet and I tripped twice.”)

Some stopped me cold; some made me laugh out loud.

All made me grateful for the privilege of witnessing life-changing events, be they flashes of fame (Blake Lewis and Sanjaya) or mind-numbing governmental morass (Seattle Monorail and Alaskan Way Viaduct).

Still, I wondered what the work had done to us. Cops know the feeling; social-services caseworkers, too.

We’re all a weird mix of pack rat, voyeur, stenographer and worrywart. We want to know everything, but once we do, we feel more accomplished than horrified.

No matter that it is some of the most heartbreaking or hilarious or outrageous things we’ve ever heard of or read. It becomes a part of us — and takes something out of us at the same time.

It’s nothing compared to what our subjects go through, and I can’t compare it to the post-traumatic stress that a soldier experiences.

But it’s a disorder, nonetheless.

Meg Spratt, director of academic programs at the Dart Center West (for Journalism & Trauma) and a lecturer at the University of Washington, said the industry is paying more attention to the effect some stories have on the reporters who cover them.

Most experience some measure of stress; as a result, some can get pretty cynical. Gallows humor, she said, is a common defense mechanism.

“But when the gallows humor goes out of the newsroom, and when you slip and say something incredibly callous to someone who doesn’t understand your culture,” Spratt said, then paused.

“Just keep it indoors.”

Luckily, we have a sunnier spot in which to report all the darkness and weirdness. It doesn’t yet look like a newsroom; it won’t take long for us to fill it with our notebooks and files.

The stories will be here, too, with parts we won’t toss or keep, but carry around within us just the same.

Nicole Brodeur’s column appears Tuesday and Friday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or

She’s done with airplanes for now.