Wednesday, November 24, 2004

When fluff stories attack

My most recent article was one of those holiday fluff stories and my first non-political story of the semester. I spent a few days shopping around Washington, looking in gift shops in national museums and federal buildings, writing about the unique gifts out-of-state shoppers can purchase online or by phone. Not a bad gig for a 20-year-old female reporter.
I was warmly received everywhere but at one organization's gift shop. I called ahead to make sure it was open to the public, and then took the train out to Maryland to check it out. I introduced myself to the clerk, who was foreign, and told her my assignment. That's when she freaked out, telling me I couldn't be in the store.
I asked her if the store was open to the public. When she said it was, I tried to explain that I can, in fact, write about publicly sold merchandise. She repeatedly told me I couldn't write but could only shop.
"Why do you have to stick your. . .?" Nose into our business, I knew she wanted to say. I tried to explain that, worst case scenario, the shop gets a little more business as a result of my article.
She defensively said, "We don't need your help." I hung around for a while, checking out the merchandise simply for the sake of doing so. It was nothing worth mentioning in print, so I left without saying anything more to the clerk.
I couldn't help but wonder when the press became the enemy. I can't count how many guest lecturers we've had this semester that recall the days when reporters and senators played cards together in the press gallery, even got silly drinking together after work. Now, the press gallery tables are empty, and everyone carries bottled water. Today, there is an invisible wall between reporters and sources, and I often wish I could've experienced old Washington journalism.
Well, Happy Thanksgiving. I've got a plane to catch.


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