You know how it is. Give your name to a reporter and bad things will happen. Your face will fall off, thieves will steal your identity and your wife will leave you. It’s like the curse of King Tut’s Tomb, this business of getting identified in a news story. It’s amazing so many of you remain alive and with your skin intact.

So I was in Auburn one recent night to report on what appeared to be a mysterious health hazard at a popular restaurant. The scene was mild mayhem, with paramedics doling out the oxygen to the afflicted.

Men and women stood in groups, talking about what foreign invader might have stricken their friends. I stood and spoke with them, writing down some comments and scribbling the names of those who provided them. Reporting 101. Always get a correct spelling of a name, even if it is Pat Jones, which it never is.

So the reporting was easy. Then someone wandered out of the restaurant and started doling out the dire advice, as though it were more vital than the oxygen provided by the medics.

Don’t talk to a reporter, people. Your face will fall off and you will die. In that order.

Or some such thing. One by one, all of those people with their helpful comments shuffled up to me and asked that their names be stricken from the record. The opinion of hysteria and urban legend had won again. The result is a story that reads like this:

“Several people were sick. I sure hope they’re all OK,” said one man, who did not wish to be identified because a friend told him he would lose his face and wife.

Frankly, I don’t get it. Whenever I’m out of town, I secretly hope something of importance will happen in my vicinity so that unfamiliar reporters will want to talk to me. My, what rich quotes I will give him or her (or “other” if it’s a television reporter). If it’s a fire, I’ll describe it with such great detail, it will singe the pages of the reporter’s notebook. If it is an avalanche, I will wax on with such beautiful metaphor the journalist before me will suffer frostbite.

Then I will give him my name, spelling it twice and reminding him, her or television reporter to capitalize the F in LaFlamme.

“Call me if you forget how to spell it,” I will say before parting.

I don’t believe in the Curse of the Newspaper Quote, or whatever the conspiracy people are calling it. Lending your name to a helpful quote says that you are an informed member of your community and one who is happy to go on the record to help educate others. It says you are a giant stud who should probably be up for some kind of award. It says you have fresh breath, amazing virility and all the attributes sought in a mate.

I exaggerate some, maybe. But I can say that in my experience, I don’t recall anyone whose name appeared in one of my stories having suffered afflictions familiar to Job or even mild complications.

A man whose boss has been indicted on charges of molesting farm animals probably shouldn’t say “Oh, yeah. I always suspected,” if I come prowling with my notebook. At least before the freaky boss is convicted and sent to the prison farm. But then, most people are equipped with enough common sense to avoid flagrant missteps like these.

Ninety five percent of the people I talk to while reporting a story are simply describing a scene they witnessed or offering insights from their particular field of expertise. A monkey could do my job (and a monkey does, quips you wits in the crowd).

And yet there is always that wary friend who will come to whisper that speaking to a reporter is akin to opening an umbrella inside the house and breaking a mirror with it beneath an overturned horseshoe on Friday the 13th.

That whisperer is the same person who will spout off with wild opinions about any issue on the table. He or she will demand that you write it down in your notebook. But when it comes to name time, they will balk. They will even get indignant about it, as though their opinions are so powerful, they shouldn’t require any attribution at all.

Which is just crazy, isn’t it? If you have thoughts to share, they weaken if your conviction isn’t strong enough to carry your name. Stories need people and people by nature are identified by name. A reader wants to know who said what, not only that something was said. It’s how we communicate and establish trust.

But why am I telling you this? You talk to me all the time without compunction. I’m sorry if I forgot your name, old friend. Keep calling me and sending me letters plump with scandal and wild allegations. Tell your friends to do the same. It’s like a chain-letter, you know. Ignore your friendly reporter and your most prized body parts will rot away and your loved ones will leave you.

It happened to a man in Duluth, you know.


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