One of the most irritating parts of reporting — always has been, always will be — is the waiting. Waiting around in locker rooms. Waiting around in clubhouses (which is what they call locker rooms in baseball). Waiting around on the courthouse steps for the verdict to come in, or sitting in front of a podium waiting for a press conference to begin.
Or this, the worst one: Waiting for a source to call you back.
This is especially true for me nowadays because I’m not out on the beat. Most of my time, as a freelancer, is researching stuff online and interviewing people over the phone. If, that is, they call back.
And if they don’t … well, that’s where it gets hairy sometimes.
Do you wait another five minutes until you bug them again with another phone call? Do you try an end-around; another phone number or email? Do you try to sic the PR people on them, make them feel guilty?
Are you sure that email was the correct one? Is that the right phone number?
And what if s/he doesn’t call back? What then? What’s your Plan B? C? F?
It’s not always hard. Sometimes, people are only too glad to speak to you (I’m talking non-athletes now), to share their work or explain a position, to provide information so what you’re working on might actually be, you know, informational. And correct.
Last week I did a piece with three sources, on mail-order marriages. Spent a good half-hour on the phone with each of them; an author writing a book on it, a filmmaker who had done a documentary and the owner of one of those mail-order bride sites. All were delightful. So delightful I didn’t have nearly enough room for all they had to say.
And then we have this week …
[insert annoying cricket sound here]
I’m not doing anything differently. I’m being aggressive, I think, but not overly so. I’ve followed up, nicely, with phone calls and emails. Yet …
[you get it by now]
Sure, this may sound like whining. It probably is. This is part of the business. I get it. I get it more than most. And, generally, I don’t mind. There’s a sense of satisfaction when, finally, I land an interview with someone I’ve been after for a few days.
The problem, though, is with freelancing, all that waiting around? You don’t get paid for it. It doesn’t help you get paid. It’s essentially throwing your time — read: money — in the street. If, you know, you had money to throw in the street.
I’ve had, over the past year-plus, the chance to talk to some really cool people over the phone. Smart people, interesting people. Funny people. I’ve done dozens and dozens and dozens of interviews (that’s at least 72, and I feel confident that’s probably a little low). That’s way more than beat guys do, ’cause their subjects are often right in front of them. In fact, I’d say that 75 percent of interviews for beat guys — whether it’s the police beat or the Bengals beat — are in person. Makes things a lot easier.
I’ve done so many interviews over the phone in the past 14, 15 months or so it’s ridiculous. But you know what? The ones that didn’t call me back, those guys I’ll remember.