By Kate Winkle
I’m convinced that Hollywood thinks journalists are cool. Hollywood, and the makers of superhero comics. And, when the two get together, you get Amy Adams’ Lois Lane stomping around the world in high heels and Tobey Maguire’s Spider Man taking selfies while zipping through the air. Both, I have to admit, are pretty cool images.
Journalists in actuality are a lot less glamorous, and not every story is a world-traveling adventure or the uncovering of a scandal. Sometimes, journalists have to sit by a phone and wait for a source to call back. They have to be patient. But they need to get information in a timely manner, so they also have to be persistent.
The past few weeks have been a lesson in the virtues of patience and persistence. I worked on a longer-term project that required me to call media relations representatives and coordinate interviews. In fact, my project absolutely required that I rely on them for help, which can be very good or very difficult.
The good part is that media relations representatives can provide access. Through coordination with a Smithsonian National Zoo representative, I took video inside an enclosure of giant tortoises. By talking with a Library of Congress representative, I photographed the library’s extensive flute collection. The media relations people also introduced me to individuals willing to let me follow them around and do an interview. Those are some very rewarding benefits.
On the other hand, as a journalist I depend on these people. If they don’t call back or won’t work with me, sometimes there can’t be a story. If they don’t call back quickly, my project timeline gets shifted a smidge.
There’s a kind of frantic worry that develops when waiting for someone to call back. If it’s for a daily or breaking story, I’ve sometimes called every half hour until I’ve gotten a response. But working on a longer project requires more tact, there’s a delicate balance between being an annoyance and being at the forefront of that person’s mind. I wanted to develop a relationship so I could work with them and continue to work with them.
I wanted so badly for this project to work, and the worst part was that there was really nothing I could do about the holdup, except call back every day and politely request to be called back. And also tell them to “have a nice day,” for good measure.
Finally getting that call and talking schedules was a welcome relief. Even more of a relief was going out and meeting my sources, starting productive work on the project.
The next relief was, of course, finishing and publishing the project.