The hardest part

The Tom Petty allusion should give a clue as to what I’m doing now. There’s a lot of waiting at times in this job, followed by moments of relentless activity. Some day’s it’s nothing but relentless, but oftentimes I find myself sitting and sitting and sitting, waiting for phone calls, waiting for emails, just … waiting.

I try to use the time well, of course. There’s always some little detail to handle at work, and there’s an endless array of things I *could* be doing. At times, though, it’s simply mind-numbing, and one tends to feel a bit helpless on certain days as time flows endlessly on.

All we do as journalists is largely based on the premise that other people will agree to cooperate with us, agreeing to meet with us or at least call or write us back. Sometimes you have to be aggressive and chase down people who don’t want to talk, but for the most part your day is spent tracking down people who may not necessarily like having part of their day taken up by a reporter but will still cooperate. Most people, I think, still understand that what we do is important work and believe there’s a mutual responsibility to get good information out to the public.

But the thing is: People call or write when it’s convenient for them. Sometimes that’s a few minutes after you get in touch with them. Sometimes that’s a few minutes before deadline. And sometimes, it’s days later. I always tell people when we plan to run something. Editors, of course, can change when a piece is slotted, so I’m not always correct. But I always give people a clear deadline to get in touch, and it amazes me how many times people will return a call days down the road, sometimes with an apology but often not. I always let them know that I appreciate the gesture, but … Well, too late is too late.

So I’m waiting, this time on people to call me about school lunch programs and changes the Obama administration plans to make to them. Not thrilling by my standards, but again — important information for those who want to know. A magic fast-forward button would be appreciated, but I’ll settle for a couple of phone calls before 4 p.m.

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3 Responses to The hardest part

  1. Kathy Edwards McFarland says:

    Good to know waiting wasn’t just my trial when working at R-News. Glad you are discovering better ways to spend your wait time than my old habit of Solitaire. I’m working on a new project – lots of interviews and research in my future. I’ll let you, et al, know more as details get worked out.

  2. Kay Oates says:

    Brian, are sources slower to return your calls than they were 15 years ago?

  3. Brian Bethel says:

    Hmm. Maybe. What is see is more and more people wanting to jot down a thought or two in an email instead of having a real in-person or even over-the-phone interview.

    As far as speed for those who do go beyond that, it just depends. I tend to think people in general are busier than they were even a few years ago, largely largely because of downsizing. That’s certainly my experience.

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