It’s been more than 20 years now and I still maintain that I have no idea how that police report came into my possession. 

In 2003, this was, when somehow I got hold of a police report, thick and juicy as the finest sirloin steak, detailing how several police officers had lain in wait for Auburn Mayor Norm Guay, who was then arrested for driving drunk even though he blew below the legal limit. 

As political sagas go, this one was pretty hot, and having that report fall into my lap was a gift from above. 

But how exactly DID that lurid stack of paper find its way to me, that was the burning question. It was a question to which half of Auburn demanded an answer, including the police chief and a squadron of irritated politicos I had never heard of. 

At least one of them offered to pay me for information about who exactly it was who placed that report into my grubby reporter hands. 

“I have no idea,” I told him, as I told all others who came knocking. “I stepped out of the newsroom one night and there the report was, tucked under my windshield wipers. It’s the craziest thing.”


And this is absolutely true. 

As far as you know. 

The questionable arrest of the mayor caused ripples of discontent across Auburn’s political ecosystem and at one point it appeared the whole matter might be headed for court. Had that happened, I was told by an almost giddy newspaper lawyer, there was a good chance I could land in jail for refusing to name my source. 

“Hope I look good in orange,” I said, both glum and excited at the same time. “Because I can’t reveal the source.” 

It’s an unassailable truth in journalism and every reporter worthy of the notepad knows it. Betray a source to whom you promised anonymity and the stink of it will follow you the rest of your days.

It doesn’t matter if it’s some high official out of Augusta or just some dude who popped out of a downtown bar to give you a crucial bit of information. A source is a source, and if you promise them anonymity, anonymity is what they must get.


I am blessed, truly, with a good number of reliable folks who feed me information on a range of stories on a near daily basis. These are men and women from an array of professions whose names never appear in print. They work in whispers and winks and nods and the only thing they demand is secrecy. 

“You didn’t hear this from me,” they will say before diving into the matter at hand, spilling secrets that certainly highly placed officials would rather not fall into the ears of a reporter. 

There are sources who will call me on the phone to tell me lurid details about this matter or that one. A few only traffic in text messages and only on the promise that I will delete them when we’re done. 

There is one fellow, the holder of many an arcane local secret, who has a flair for the dramatic and will only meet me in a parking garage or a darkened lot in the middle of the night. We pull up side-by-side in our respective cars and speak in soft tones through windows rolled only halfway down. 

“Between you, me and the lamppost,” he will say every time we meet, “here’s what you need to know.” 

Murder? Political scandal? Police corruption or shady backroom deals? 


On most topics, I have at least one person I can call on for help in that shushed way that’s so useful for peeling back the onion of a scandal or complex crime. These shadowy sources provide me with valuable scraps of information that can’t be used directly, but which can be used to find wormholes into a case that otherwise seems impenetrable. 

The kinds of people who make for great sources do so for a variety of reasons. Some simply hate to see corruption or injustice and so will do what they can to cast light on those dark places. They will fill in the blanks of an incomplete story or just point a reporter in the right direction.

Often the sweet songs sung by my faceless friends never make it into any news story at all. As often as not it’s just gossip; salacious tidbits of information about a local politician or business heavyweight. Sometimes it’s an insight into a particularly difficult police investigation, or a glimpse of a crime scene too lurid and ghastly to ever be put down in ink.

Gossip is good, too. It broadens a reporter’s understanding of the beat in which he travels. I’ll sometimes talk to a source for an hour or more without taking a single note. He or she is just giving me verbal vittles to file away for later. You never know when yesterday’s gossip will become today’s news headline.

For a police reporter in particular, sources are like currency. You’ve got to have them or else you’ll starve.

When I started out in 1994, I knew how desperately I needed solid sources, but then, who is going to talk to some nobody reporter fresh on the job? What beat cop, court official or gung-ho detective is going to put his job on the line by throwing a bone to some putz he’s never heard of? 


I still remember the very first person to trust me with information that he shouldn’t have been sharing at all. It was good information and all he wanted was to never see his name associated with it.

I wish I could tell you more about him, but even all these years on, I fear saying too much and inadvertently revealing this glorious source, because, as we’ve learned, if you burn one, you burn them all. Word gets around and suddenly your word isn’t worth a damn and nobody is whispering in your ear anymore. 

If a police beat reporter doesn’t have a good fleet of secret squirrel sources, he is stuck day after day waiting for the OFFICIAL WORD to come down from city hall, the police department or some political mouthpiece. 

When all you have is the OFFICIAL WORD, you end up writing stories that have been curated by some suit with a personal interest in managing the news. Those stories will feel incomplete. Inconsequential. You become just another hack rewriting press releases and calling it news, and where is the fun in that?

By the time 2003 came around, I had already established myself as a reporter who could be trusted with morsels of information. Somebody trusted me enough to fork over the titillating police report on the arrest of Mayor Guay, anyway, although if you were to ask me about it, I might have trouble recalling how it all came together the way it did. 

The report just fell out of heaven itself, as far as I recall, and landed on my windshield. 

It was the craziest thing. 

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