Here at the Sun Journal, we get requests all the time from people who are interested in following around a reporter on his or her daily rounds. Job shadow, we call the concept. It’s a term we made up ourselves and which you can never use without our permission. And don’t think we won’t notice if you do.

The people who express interest in job shadowing™ are typically young men and women who have reached critical junctures in their lives: They need to decide whether they want to become journalists or go out and get real jobs.

It makes no nevermind to me either way. When a young person is awarded the unparalleled thrill of following me around on the night beat, my only aim is to teach him everything I know about the task of news-gathering. After that, we typically go see a double feature somewhere because seriously, how long could that possibly take?

As there are good reporters and bad ones, the same can be said for job shadows. Some are thirsty for knowledge and will hang on your every word, taking copious notes and asking intelligent questions. For many, going out on a real assignment with a real reporter is something they have dreamed of since the day they watched that old movie, “The Paper,” starring Michael Keaton and some other old people, for the very first time.

I’ll never forget the sight of one young lass, a teenager who stood in the newsroom, tears streaming down her face as she declared: “It has been a lifelong dream of mine to sit in on a meeting where great city leaders discuss world-changing events such as whether to allow that guy up on Webster Street to build a bait storage shed on his property.”

Enthusiastic, inquisitive and easily impressed, that’s the way we like ’em.

Then there’s the kid who comes in under the delusion that local news is only a very small part of what we do at the Sun Journal. The rest, he surmises, is reserved for deep, insightful prose on par with that of The New Yorker or Esquire.

“Oh, I wouldn’t be interested in writing about news,” he will say all haughtily when you try to show him how to retype a news release. “I want to write feeeeatures.”

And he says it just like that, with the word drawn out long as if the very notion of feature-writing is so sublime, it can’t properly be expressed in two short syllables. The aspiring feeeeeatures writer has no interest in something as lowly as breaking news.

Which is too bad, because when a job shadow is sent my way, it’s my aim to expose him to the many thrills of the police beat. I’ll even invite him to speak the adrenaline-fueled gibberish that only other police reporters understand.

“It’s zero dark thirty, my friend,” I’ll scream into the young fellow’s face. “The clams float in melted butter and the mustard is off the hot dog!”

Weirdly, they never get that.

Job shadows who join me on the police beat are no doubt waiting for the explosions, shootouts, infernos and dramatic car chases that fill my world. Frankly, I’m waiting for those things, too. I’ll crank the scanner up real loud and fly up out of my chair at the first sign of action. Any minute now, job shadow. The big one is imminent.

The scanner hums its mundane business. Barking dogs, neighbor problems, bird complaints (it happens), littering, jaywalking, misbehaving children, unlawful Frisbee games, arguments over lawn-mowing, suspicious aromas, loud music …

Eventually, an editor will notice that my job shadow has fallen asleep atop a desk and will come to my aid.

“We’ve got a report of paint drying on East Avenue, LaFlamme. Get out there and get us a story!”

Yes! The big one! So, I’ll spring into action and fly to the …

But I can’t even fake my way through this scene. When a job shadow joins me on the beat, nothing happens. Ever. Less than nothing. If city leaders were to assign me a full-time job shadow, crime would drop to zero. There would be no more fires or crashes or brawls. Dogs would stop barking. Hoodlums would turn down their music. People would dedicate their lives to helping others and peace would reign.

My job shadow would eventually tumble into a deep sleep from which he might never rouse. And if he does rouse, it will be only long enough to scamper out and tell his friends what a dull, pointless job I have.

Man, I really should look into getting a better beat. I really should write more feeeeeeatures.

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. Potential job shadowers eager to capture the nuances of drying paint can email him at [email protected]


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