Tried so hard, got so far, and in the end it doesn’t even matter
By Eric Bennett
When you call someone up to ask for an interview, usually one of two things will happen.
One, they agree to talk and you have your interview right then and there or two, they say they’re too busy right now and you should call back at a specific, better time for them.
The first scenario is ideal because you get the information immediately and both of you can move on with your lives. The second is also fine. We all have different schedules and working around them is preferable to asking someone questions when they’re uncomfortable and rushed.
While interning at the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, I had my fair share of both scenarios. I’ve had to get up at 6 a.m. to interview a lively gospel singer for the Motown Cabaret because that was the only time he had free to talk. I’m lucky he was the kind of guy who answers a five word question with a five paragraph essay because I was not entirely conscious at the time.
Being an intern almost feels like being a lightning rod sometimes. You sometimes take the stories that no one else wants to do, or like lightning striking twice, they don’t want to do again. One day I was assigned to write an article about the rising senior population in Alaska. What I thought was going to be my most awful experience at the News-Miner ended up being my most awful experience at the News-Miner.
My first contact was the state demographer, who had done the original research on the rising senior population. He was a scenario two, not at his office but I left a message and he called me back soon enough. He was a little dry, but definitely knew his topic. He answered all questions straight and to the point. What he didn’t know he looked up and calculated and sent the information back to me. Efficient and knowledgeable.
With the raw numbers and facts in hand, I needed first-hand experiences to see if this old person influx actually mattered at all. I called up two local organizations that handled senior problems. They were the Fairbanks Senior Center and Raven Landing. They were both scenario one. One call got straight through to whom I needed to talk to and the other had me transferred from the front desk to who I wanted.
The two women who answered were some of these most kind and knowledgeable people I have ever interviewed. To my surprise, they were a pleasure to talk with. They were able to tell me in detail everything I wanted to know about their organization and how the senior population affected them. As it turned out, yes, the number of seniors in Fairbanks is a problem since there is not enough care available to assist all of them. “The Fairbanks Senior Center estimates the senior population will triple by 2030.” Excellent quotes and facts were added into my article.
This is where the things went downhill. I needed to talk to one more organization to get a fuller picture of the situation and I almost hesitate to put the name up front. I get it, everyone has a bad day sometimes. Sometimes things just don’t work out. Maybe I was calling at the wrong times, the wrong week, the wrong people. However, when a state organization, the Pioneer Home, has absolutely no idea what I’m talking about in reference to a rising senior population, something seems off.
I tried calling everyone: the administrator, the managers in two different cities, the acting administrator, the front desks, both of the public information officers. Less than half of them answered their phones and didn’t respond to messages and the ones who did pick up sounded confused and said they didn’t know anything about what I was asking. I wasn’t asking anything strange or difficult, it was mostly
the same questions I had for all the previous interviewees. Still, everyone claimed to know nothing or didn’t call me back.
Some time after I had called all the people in the organization who I thought were relevant, I got a call back from one of the public information officers. Usually this is a great thing, it means they’ve come up with what you asked for and have it ready for you. However, this was not the case this time. The first time I had called this person, it was a troublesome experience. Within seconds of saying hello, we were trying to talk over each other and tempers were flaring. This was the first time in my life I had ever felt like I was destined to be enemies with someone, despite not knowing a single personal thing about them. Anyways, the reason she had called was to tell me that I was out of line trying to go around her, the public information officer, while gathering information. That was the moment I gave up on getting anything from the Pioneer Home. I didn’t care any more.
The article was already in a finished form. I only needed the Pioneer Home’s thoughts on the matter. Two weeks later I got the number of beds they had at their Fairbanks home. I added one line to my article and turned it in.
Was it worth it? Absolutely not. All that effort ended up being for nothing other than being able to say I tried. What I learned was that sometimes you have to know when to stop. Everything should have a good, definite end. Waiting for someone else to do your work probably isn’t the best solution.
Otherwise, working at the News-Miner was a nice experience. There’s good people there, a good place to learn the profession and plenty of opportunities to learn something new.