Oh, boy. It’s that time of year again when perfectly lovely school teachers are asking me to come to their classrooms to talk about the news-gathering process. For the children! Oh, won’t you do it for the children!
Frankly, there’s nothing I’d like better than to stand in front of a group of bored, sneering kids, insane with hormones, just waiting for me to utter an unfortunate double-entendre so they can laugh and mock and throw spitballs.
Unfortunately Teach, I’m sick that day. Also, my degu ate my homework and my dear old grandmamma died for a record third time this week. It’s all very sad and helpful.
So, because I can’t make it to your classroom — for the perfectly legitimate reasons listed above — I thought maybe I could do my part by explaining the news-gathering process here. For the children. The children!
Now, excuse me while I go look up the process for correctly gathering and delivering news to you, the reader who wishes to stay informed about local happenings and junk like that.
I know what you’re thinking: Reporters sit around listening to the police scanner all day and simply react when big news comes across the airwaves. Ha! Rubes. You know nothing about the news business.
Although, that’s exactly how it happens 75 percent of the time for me, a big-time, important reporter occupying the lowest rung on the ladder for 20 proud years.
POLICE SCANNER: “All units respond to a really awful scene in Kennedy Park where dozens of semi-nude people are doing horrible things with fire and poison and things like that.”
POLICE REPORTER: “Dolores, can I get another Miller Lite over here?”
Ha ha! Just kidding. We don’t really hang out in bars all the time. And if we did, we wouldn’t be ordering light beer. As far as you know.
A half-second after that thrilling police call comes over the scanner, an editor in a far corner of the room pops up out of her chair like one of those old toys that used a spring and a suction cup to deliver a frightening surprise. Remember those? Whatever happened to those things?
EDITOR: “Did you hear that call, lowly reporter?”
EDITOR 2, SITTING JUST TWO FEET AWAY FROM EDITOR 1: “Hey, what’s-his-name, did you hear that?”
GUY WHO CHANGES THE COKE MACHINES: “Hey, Low Rung. Did you hear that call?”
The newspaper’s executive editor calls in from home to inquire as to whether the police reporter, ol’ what’s-his-name, heard the call on the police scanner.
It’s just awful. And thrilling! As described here by Sun Journal relief police reporter Douglas McIntire.
“Awful and thrilling, yeah, yeah. Can I get another Macho Sounding Drink, Dolores?”
And so thus motivated, your fearless reporter dashes off into the night, with a notebook flapping from his rear pocket and pen clamped between his teeth like a pirate on a plunder. And while others are fleeing from the scene of atrocity, your hero Low Rung wades right into the fray to get a full report.
Unless it’s too scary, in which case he or she will hang out at the edge of the park, talking to witnesses, traffic-control cops and dog walkers in pajamas about what probably occurred in the belly of the beast. One way or another, we’ll get that story and then it’s back to the newsroom or bar to pound out a thrilling report on an event that connects you with your community in dazzling and confusing ways.
But before that story sees print, the reporter will discuss it at length with one or two of the helpful pop-up editors on the other side of the room. Are the facts correct? Are names spelled correctly? Does the report contain the very latest news about the incident?
And by the time it’s over, we can proudly say that the answer to each of those questions is, “Probably.”
So there you have it, teachers, a complete breakdown on how news-gathering works, complete with helpful diagrams (there are no diagrams) and insights from not one but TWO professional news-gatherers. This powerful information can simply be handed out to your students, to be mulled while they’re dozing and sending lurid text messages to one another. No reason at all for me to come to your classroom to spread germs and do at least five things that violate school policy while I’m in the boys’ room. (I swear, I didn’t know that was against the rules. Back in my day, it was actually encouraged.)
I enjoyed speaking to you and to all your students from this safe distance in which I didn’t even have to put on pants.
* IMPORTANT NOTE: The incident in Kennedy Park proved to be a “false report” in which the “involved parties” were “gone on arrival.” These are all important news-gathering terms which I will further explain when I next address you and your students.
** Which is to say, never.
Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. Though he has (presumably) outgrown puberty, he still sneers at authority. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.