Monday, November 01, 2004

Being that pesky reporter

I could tell by the way the woman called her husband to the phone that I had pronounced their last name incorrectly, and now I'd been relegated to that most odious batch of human beings -- telemarketers.
The husband was the tough sell I expected at this Tuesday dinner hour. I explained that I was calling from Washington --working on a story about campaign donations in Lynchburg, Va. -- and trying to speak to some donors.
"So what?" he replied.
I didn't really know "what." As I asked if he had time for an interview, I knew I wouldn't be much more receptive to someone calling from Washington and asking to print my personal finances and political preferences in my local newspaper.
Gearing up for the election, I had pitched presidential campaign contribution stories that would analyze Federal Elections Commission reports for the towns of our smaller newspapers. I started with Florence, S.C., and found that for the town's 238 Bush contributors, only seven people were donating to the Kerry campaign. Lynchburg proved less interesting, with about twice as many Bush contributors than Kerry contributors -- an unsurprising disparity for a Southern state.
My stories ran 1A in both towns and made enjoyable writing, despite the spreadsheet work. But I couldn't write those stories too often. I went from feeling unnecessarily intrusive to feeling excited about the final product, and it was hard to keep those conflicting feelings from affecting my mood. I wrote in my internship diary that I kept thinking, later in life, I wouldn't want my kids to hear me doing this. So I'll have to be sure not to take my work home, especially if I'm taking it into someone else's.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post. Thank you for the insight.

7:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brock Meeks chimes in...First off, pat yourself on the back for coming up with a snappy idea that turns a national story (campaign contributions/election money) into a local story.

This is a bedrock skill for journalists and one that never ceases to pay dividends. As you move up the journalistic food chain you’ll find that same skill useful years down road, expect years later what you’ll do is troll around for all sorts of local stories and then see if you can cobble them together in order to spot a national trend. Be the first to bring all those local stories together and write the “bleeding edge” national trend stories and I promise the journalistic gods will smile on you. No, I’m not making this up.

But first you have to get over this “I’m being intrusive” hurdle. Now, true, it was a bit intrusive to call Mr. Contributor at home… at that hour. So next time, make the calls earlier, find out where Mr. Contributor works and see if you can call him or Ms. Contributor at work; on a cell phone. During lunch.

And realize that the public doesn’t often realize that much of what they do is, well, “open season” (for lack of a better term) for journalists. Campaign contributions are public; divorce records are public. You think asking someone about their political contributions is intrusive, try digging into someone’s divorce settlement and asking about their child support or alimony payments… and that’s all I’ll say about that.

4:15 PM  

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