This is the way it works: The editors have given me a cumbersome news assignment, usually something odious that is no fun at all for me, your lovable, hardworking reporter who only wants to chase cops and robbers all night.

It’s an obit feature, often. Sometimes it’s something complex and political, the type of story that will bring a tear to my eye faster than plucking a nose hair. I’ll cry and protest and try to get out of it, but I never do, so off I go, shoving my considerable nose to that unrelenting grindstone.

For some stories, the aforementioned odious ones in particular, the lovable and hardworking reporter is required to contact a whole lot of people. Six, or eight or 10 sources must be tracked down and made to talk, through charm or begging, whichever seems most effective at the time.

Problem: If you need to talk to six or eight or 10 specific people like, right now, those people are absolutely, positively sure to be off doing something that’s more fun than talking to a newspaper reporter. Golfing, maybe, or getting root canals.


I’ll start following up my calls with emails. Text messages. Facebook nags. If I know the person’s mother, I’ll call her to check in. “Everything OK with sonny boy?” I’ll ask. “I haven’t heard from him in three minutes!”


Part of my problem, of course, is impatience and a lingering sense of failure. As a guy who came up covering late-night mayhem under intense deadline pressures, I never developed a phlegmatic nature. I don’t have it in me to calmly wait for callbacks. Instead, I’ll pace and fume and grumble about how if I don’t get a callback in the next 30 seconds, the world as we know it will cease to be and all that will be left in its place is a smoking black hole with a bunch of phones in it that never ring.

But I don’t want to be overly dramatic.

What happens next is predictable, and yet it somehow shocks me every time.

“The story is doomed,” I’ll say, all hang-dog shame, to my editor. “All hope is lost. I’ll just clean out my desk and get out of everybody’s hair. Wait … Hold on, would you? My phone is ringing.”

Yes, my phone is ringing and on the other end is source number one, a nice sir or madam whom I had left a message for two hours earlier.

“Thank you for calling,” I’ll say to him or her, all breathless with relief. “Boy, I can’t tell you how much I … hold on, would you? I have another call coming in.”


On the other line, is source number three, getting back to me after his root canal because he really wants to weigh in on the story at hand. And just as he’s getting to the good stuff, my phone starts to make all those annoying, beeps, burps and buzzes to let me know that there’s yet another call trying to come through. And a text. And a Facebook message. And six emails, all from people I contacted hours earlier and who clearly coordinated their attack so that every one of them would call me at the same, preordained time.

Getting pig-piled by return calls in this fashion is both a harrowing nuisance and a blessing. It’s a blessing because once you get caught up and get everyone sorted out, your story will positively glow with all those individual voices you had to struggle so hard to get.

It’s harrowing because juggling that many messages at once, you will invariably get mixed up, call people by the wrong names and completely forget why you called in the first place.

And this is why I much prefer live, breaking news, where you’re out on the street and everyone you talk to is right in front of you, shouting, waving their arms about and demanding that you take down their information because they’re so hopped up on adrenaline, they’re probably going to climb a tree cat-style once the interview is over. Getting quotes at a live scene is a fish-in-barrel scenario — no pacing, no groveling, no calling mothers at home. It’s a beautiful thing.

And that, my friends, is a brief explanation as to why reporters drink so much.

When he’s not inundated with call-back anxiety, Mark LaFlamme is a staff writer for the Sun Journal.

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