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Grims Tales: Don't make me look like a stalker

Virtually every week for the past two years I have been making constant phone calls to strangers. You see, the way it works is that we sit down as a team and come up with things we think might be news worthy. These things are often events from a ...

Virtually every week for the past two years I have been making constant phone calls to strangers.

You see, the way it works is that we sit down as a team and come up with things we think might be news worthy. These things are often events from a local organization, something that happened that people will have questions about or better yet, things that our readers have told us they want to read about (please, please, feel free to share your input on what you want to read).

We take those ideas, try to figure out who has satisfactory expertise in each subject, and then we call like crazy! Much of my weekly schedule is spent trying to get in touch with someone. When that someone finally gets the phone, I start with introductions, and if they do not hang up on me I will then ask if they are interested in an interview. More often than not, they say yes, and we work out a time that works for them.

Then there are the other people. The people who I call, and call, and call, and they never call back. If someone does not answer my phone calls, I've been known to find roundabout ways of contacting them, in case they don't check their voice mails. Honestly, the actions of a desperate news writer might appear comparable to a stalker, because I will search online for email addresses, message anyone on Facebook with the same name, and even occasionally stop in at your place of work if it is public. For this reason, it takes a lot of self confidence to do my job. It is sometimes incredibly awkward to track down an important interview. More often than not, there is no reason it should be so hard.

Those people who I pursue this way fall into a few different categories. There are those who genuinely don't check messages. There are those who say "I'll do it tomorrow." and never do. There are those who are secretly out of town. Finally, there are those who are just avoiding the calls.

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This final category is the one to whom I am directing this column. I can only guess the reasons a person might not want to return our calls. Maybe they think they don't have time, but usually an interview lasts 15 minutes or less, it is really dictated by the person answering the questions. If you give long answers, the interview gets longer. If you give very direct answers, we will be done very quick.

Maybe they are shy about interviewing, but more often than not, the interview is simply a conversation like you might have with anyone else. There is no reason to be shy. Our paper isn't a smear campaign. There are occasional arrest stories and other unfortunate events, but more often than not we want to talk to you about something good. You opened a business? Awesome. You have survived a serious illness? Fantastic! You are doing something good for the community? Phenomenal! We want to celebrate you.

Finally there are those that don't want to do an interview. If you fall into this final category, let me say the worst thing you can do is avoid our calls. Avoiding our calls is at least a little selfish, and more than a little bit ineffective.

I say selfish because we have chosen you as an important source for our story. We usually have a week to get information from you to go into a story. If you are screening our calls, we don't know if you are going to call us back on Friday and finally grant us our interview, so we are stuck trying to decide if we should find someone else to interview, and risk having you call us back for no reason at the last second, or if we should keep calling you and risk missing out on an important perspective.

I say ineffective because screening our calls will only guarantee that you will keep getting calls from us until it is too late for the story. If you are a possible source for our Love of the Lakes magazine, we might call you, leave messages for you, or try to hunt you down every week for an entire year. This is really ridiculous and inconvenient for both sides compared to the alternative.

What do you do if you aren't interested? Simply answer the phone, and when we get to the point where I ask, "Are you interested in an interview?" you say, "No, sorry." In very rare occasions I might explain to you why we think you would be an important source, but more often I will say, "Thank you. Have a great day!" I will hang up, and I will not stalk you. Isn't that better?

Opinion by Travis G. Grimler
Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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