I was supposed to do a story today about a low-cost, traveling spay and neuter clinic, but it was canceled because of the snow we've had. Disappointing.
Frustrating, too, because they never called to tell me. Good thing I called them just as I was about to leave to go there. It's an hour drive, but given the state of the Interstate, it would have been a lot longer.
Speaking of the Interstate, instead of spaying and neutering, I was supposed to talk to people who had gotten stuck overnight on the highway. It was quite a nightmare out there. Apparently a UPS truck with a second trailer turned sideways and blocked all lanes of northbound traffic. Apparently that's more than anyone knows how to deal with because traffic was dead for about a day. I'm not clear on the facts, actually, so don't quote me.
Anyway, the editors were excited because a professor they often use as a source said he'd been stuck. They gave me his number and I called him.
Now, I know people learn better from mistakes than successes. I wish I weren't learning so much right now.
Mistake #1: I assumed that this guy knew why I was calling him. We were getting calls all afternoon from people who'd been stuck overnight. He had told us he was stuck, he's a frequent source, so I thought that's why he'd called.
Mistake #2: I didn't tell him straight off that I was going to be asking him about being stuck. I just started talking to him about it. He seemed happy enough to be talking, but when I asked yet another question, he sounded a little miffed. "What is this about?" he asked. "I frequently talk to your paper about (my expertise). I'll talk about (my expertise). But what is this?"
I told him I called to talk about his experiences being stuck and what it was like, what he saw, etc.
He was not pleased. He said he talks about his expertise, I should have said if I was going to ask about anything else, he thought I was making chit-chat before we started the interview about his expertise, and he did not want to discuss his problems in getting home. He reiterated that I never said I wanted to talk about anything other than his expertise, and he didn't like it. He said he was going to end it right there.
I apologized a couple of times during his rant, then we hung up.
I told the editors about it, and they were quite surprised. A while later, one of them said he found out what happened. A reporter had received an email from him, wherein he said he'd been stuck. But the email was about his expertise; he merely noted in the email he was a stranded traveler.
I feel like a total knob for not having said why I was calling. I hope he's not so pissed that he won't talk to us anymore. It seems like an extreme reaction, but some professors can be rather haughty (mistake #3 was forgetting that – I've had such great professors recently), and I'd hate to ruin a source for the paper.
Other newspaper news
On Tuesday I did a story about organ donation. A guy met the family of the man whose pancreas he received. I didn't do the fabulous, gut-wrenching story I wanted to, and I had a typo, which is so frustrating. But the health reporter told me he liked it, so I was glad. I was also a bit flustered because one of the TV stations was there, too. Geez. I'd never been to anything before where other media was there.
I'm still struggling with getting information and sitting down and turning it into a story in a couple of hours. I can't seem to incorporate facts relevant to a large audience into a personal story. I can do them separately, as I did in this article. I don't ask enough questions. I tend to stop short of asking the hard or very personal questions because it doesn't seem like any of my business, even though it's because it is my business that I'm there in the first place.
After I got to the newsroom, the photographer talked a little about it, and the editor asked questions, and my mouth just hung open. I talked to my professor about it the next day, and he asked loads of questions that were fantastic, and I didn't know many of the answers. He said I would by the time I finished his class. I am not so sure. And it makes me feel sort of incompetent as a reporter that I can't do it now. I know I'm learning, but people I interview don't know that, and neither do the readers.
People tell me I'm talented – professors, former teachers, family, friends. Great. I agree I'm a good writer. But I'm not a very skilled reporter. Not yet. But I'm trying. And learning – one mistake at a time.
(For a final mistake, just to make Heidi hurl, I'm eating a little – large – snack that Kelsey made and wants to share: cinnamon graham crackers spread thickly with marshmallow cream and sprinkled with mini chocolate chips. You have to eat when a child makes food. They are so crestfallen when you say no thank you. For the record, it's Heidi's fault that we have marshmallow cream in this house. She and her fluffernutters. My life has never been the same. Looking forward to next Tuesday....)
One last thing: The Times they are a changin'.
The Capital Times, Madison's afternoon paper, will be changing to a free weekly at the end of April.