Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Journalism trumps common courtesy?

One Friday night after work, I'm sitting on my floor eating soup when my cell phone rings. It's a Rhode Island number I don't recognize, but I assume it must be the desk because who else would have my long distance number?

"Hi, my name is Steve," the caller begins. "I got your number from Reporter Q."

At this point, I'm still thinking it may be the desk, though I wondered why they had to get my number from a reporter - I put my contact information at the top of every story I send in.

The caller continues: "I wanted to know when the follow-up of the Robert Boyer story was going to run - will it be in tomorrow's paper?"

I open my mouth but nothing comes out. Is this a reader calling my cell phone?

"I was looking for the story in today's paper, but I didn't see it. It'll be in Saturday, though, right?"

All of the air escapes my body as I realize this is, indeed, a reader calling my personal cell phone. I sit up straight and explain to the reader that the story ran in the West Bay section, not on the front page like the initial story. I tell him how to access the story online and he thanks me for my help.

I hang up and I look at the phone in disbelief. Did he really say a reporter gave my number to him?

In my mind, there are just some things you don't do in the newsroom. One is eat another person's lunch. Another is give out personal information to people outside of the company. I give my cell phone number sparingly to sources - I'd much rather take theirs - partly because I pay the bill and partly because once I leave the office, I want to leave my job there. I'm on call if the paper needs me, but every Tom, Dick, or Harry does not need 24 hour access to me.

On Monday, I shoot an e-mail to the reporter the caller told me gave him the number.

I got a phone call on my cell Friday night from a reader asking about a follow-up story to the Robert Boyer arrest. He told me you'd given him my phone number. I know you were bogged down with Station fire sentencing Friday and probably just gave him the first number you had for me. I try not to give out my cell phone to many people because it's a long distance call for them and because it's not a company phone. In the future, unless it's an emergency, please only provide my office number to anyone outside of the company.

Reporter Q responds:

I thought this was a pretty important phone call and that he should be able to reach you immediately. If you want your non-work numbers to be kept private from everyone, I think you need to make that known to (the Deputy Managing Editor) and she can make a note of that in our internal system. Most of us have listed phone numers so people can get a hold of us in case of emergency. The person who called you had no problem making a long-distance call.

Maybe I was overreacting, but it felt like the reporter trying to cyber punk me. I've made a concious effort to not be the stereotypical "angry black woman" in the newsroom. And this really wasn't that big of a deal to cause a big fuss. So I wrote back, saying that maybe the caller miscommunicated his purpose to her because what he wanted from me wasn't what I'd call "pretty important." I told her I'd speak to the proper people to make that notation about my phone number on the internal list.

I have no problem being accessible. I know that it's my job to be on call 24 hours a day. I've walked out of clubs, dipped out of dinner or otherwise stopped what I'm doing to take a call from the desk or from my editor. I don't mind that. I've even gotten a few evening calls from the police chief to tell me about something coming down the pipeline - giving me a heads up. Great, I appreciate it.

But this situation didn't fit in either of those categories; it was a reader wanting to know when a story ran.

The call couldn't have gone to my desk? Ya'll couldn't handle that in the office instead of sending him to call me at 8 p.m.? Am I wrong in thinking that it's not only journalistically uncouth, but just plain inconsiderate to give out unlisted reporter's numbers to readers?

What do you think?

Posted by T Dot at 6:52 PM | link

Read or Post a Comment

Tals, I think I need to continue reading about your episodes since it looks like I'm finally heading into the field soon. This person was out of order.
It might have helped to tell the reporter what the caller asked you so he could realize how unimportant it was.
If he still got stupid, then get ready to be checked. But that's just me.

Posted by Blogger Vdizzle @ 3:39 AM, October 25, 2006 #

V - I did explain to the reporter what the call was about. And I'm low-key and chill so I wasn't about to go angry black woman on her. So I just took it in stride, said my peace and went on about my business. But trust, she's off the Christmas card list.

Oh, and hooray for jobs! Congrats on your impending employment, V!

Posted by Blogger T Dot @ 10:34 AM, October 25, 2006 #

The reporter was wrong and obviously doesn't want to admit to being so. Even if the person who called you miscommunicated his/her intentions the reporter could have at least had the decency to apologize upon you telling the true reason for the phone call. I can read the snideness in the response that was sent to you and you are right to think that this was inconsiderate and uncouth. You handled yourself very professionally . . . I commend you on that.

Posted by Blogger Shana @ 11:06 AM, October 25, 2006 #

Yeah, not cool to give the personal cell # out to the general public. Most ppl either have the work cell or they check their voicemail and e-mail on the weekends.

Posted by Anonymous CNEL @ 6:49 PM, October 25, 2006 #

that was very disrespectful and unprofessional of your co-worker to give out your cell number. I mean, isn't that what office extensions are for? You handled it a lot better than I would have.

Posted by Blogger Chris @ 4:05 PM, October 27, 2006 #

I agree with you on being mad. Certain things you ust don't do.

Posted by Blogger Jarrod @ 7:06 AM, October 30, 2006 #


Under NO circumstances are your colleagues supposed to give your cell phone number to sources! And I can't even imagine a reader calling me on my cell...

In my office, this is a known an generally respected rule. Somebody really important better be DEAD if I get a call from a source who doesn't already have my cell/home number.

Generally speaking, it takes only a few minutes for your colleague to take the caller's information, then call you to pass on the message -- giving YOU the option to return the call and block your number!

Out. Of. Order.

Posted by Blogger hizzle06 @ 12:05 PM, October 31, 2006 #

Hey Ms. Talia,
Yeah, that is true craziness and unacceptable. What if that reader was calling to get access to you to start harassing you...your co-worker just opened the door. I know that scenario might seem a little extreme, but in some places it could happen. People are crazy and sometimes the things we have to do in our profession gives people a reason to want to hurt us, stalk us, etc. I've seen it happen it before.
Anywho, I'm surprised that your co-worker wouldn't even apologize. It seems so common sense. What if you gave out their info to a reader that called them late in the evening? I'm sure they wouldn't be too happy.

Posted by Anonymous JRucker @ 8:28 PM, November 01, 2006 #
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