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Crazy things you've had to do to file a story

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Mizzougrad96, Feb 9, 2012.

  1. Mizzougrad96

    Mizzougrad96 Active Member

    This is an off-shoot from the UVA thread...

    What is the craziest thing you ever had to do to file a story? I'm sure people here have some great ones to share...

    Here's mine...

    I think it goes without saying that there are a lot more options available these days with smart phones and tablets and whatnot, but early in my career, I frequently would have to run into a 7-11 and beg to use the phone to file, especially from prep games.

    In 1996, I was covering a high school playoff game. It was held at a field that several schools shared and the tiny school that had made the playoffs for the first time in ages was playing the No. 1 seed in the state. It was the second game of the night and it was pouring rain. The game was supposed to start at 7, but because of delays, didn't start until 8:15.

    I was already nervous because I had to be in by 11. There were no phones in the press box and this was before most people had cell phones. None of the three writers there had one.

    The tiny school takes the lead on a punt return for a touchdown with less than a minute to play. Then the No. 1 team takes the kickoff back to the 20. On the last play of the game, the No. 1 team had their all-state tight end wide open in the end zone and the QB just threw it over his head.

    I was standing on the sideline with my Trash-80 in my hand frantically writing and re-writing. The game ends at 10:30. This was one of the biggest playoff upsets in state history and it was a mix of one school going crazy and the other school looking like someone had just died.

    I get my quotes and run to the "fieldhouse" where the only working phone is. There were three reporters there from different papers and the fieldhouse is locked. One of the other writers ran to get a security guard but he couldn't open it. He said the principal from one of the high schools that played in the early game is the only one he knows who has the key. Nobody knew where that guy was, or if he was even still there.

    The parking lot is completely backed up between the celebration and the weather and one of the buses there had been trying to get out for more than 20 minutes.

    I ran across the street and walked up to a random person's house and begged to use their phone. At the time, I was 22, 6-3, about 230 pounds, had a shaved head and a goatee. I rocked the Everlast look from 1995-97 and whenever I see a picture from back then, I want to kick my own ass. I was also soaking wet and out of breath from running around like a freaking maniac.

    If someone who looked like I did in 1996 walked up to my door at 10:55 p.m. I probably would mace them and call the cops.

    By the grace of God, some woman, probably in her 60s, answered the door, I explained my situation and she let me in. I filed my story at 10:58. The second I got off the phone, I hugged her and came damn close to crying I was so frantic. I asked the woman why she let me in and she said she saw my credential and that I looked like someone who was in need of some help. As I was filing, she made me tea because I was shivering.

    I drank the tea, thanked her a couple hundred times and walked back to the field. I saw the guy from my rival paper in his car stuck in the traffic jam. He rolled down his window and said something to the effect of "I don't know what to do."

    The following week I'm at another game and the writer from the other paper sees me and says, "You fucking asshole, you have no idea how much trouble I got into because of you."
  2. Herbert Anchovy

    Herbert Anchovy Active Member

    Left no other choice than to do a dictation, via pay phone, in a veerrry sketchy part of a major city known for random acts of violence. And the person taking the dictation was the biggest tool I could have gotten under those circumstances, which made it take twice as long as it should have taken.
  3. dixiehack

    dixiehack Well-Known Member

    A c-store worker in the dead middle of nowhere in the Florida Panhandle let me unplug the stand alone atm so I could file a state tournament gamer right at deadline.
  4. jr/shotglass

    jr/shotglass Well-Known Member

    1982, the only time I ever covered a high school football game in Williamsport, Pa.

    The school's telephone system, at that time, was "self-contained," meaning you could not dial off campus. Honestly. I have no idea why, but that's the way it was.

    It's also why I was standing in a phone booth at a strip mall across from the stadium at 11:30 p.m. In a blizzard. Balancing the old Portabubble (probably about 12 pounds) on my knee while holding the telephone into the holsters with my right hand.

    That was filing old-time.
  5. Roscablo

    Roscablo Well-Known Member

    In a similar situation to Mizzou's, I was covering a state playoff football game in a coverage area that had our first deadline. It sometimes meant as little as 10 minutes after a game to get the story filed. This was in the early 2000s so wireless hadn't gone widespread yet. Most of the schools in that area were very accommodating and had offices and phone lines ready to go. Sometimes I'd have enough time to test beforehand, sometimes not.

    In this case they set me up in the library and I couldn't for the life of me get past the fax line to get connected. In a panic I just asked whoever was around for some options. A parent of one of the players actually drove me to his house so I could get the story in just in time. Then he drove me back to the school afterward. Prep coverage can be a bitch, but it's amazing how some will help to get that coverage. For him to not only let me in his home but drive me there is amazing. Probably made easier that the home team won.

    This coverage area was always a bitch and my best (and typical) prep stories come out of it -- getting locked in the press box with no lights on, writing and filing a story in under 10 minutes, dictating my story over a pay phone to a copy editor. Ah good times.
  6. Cosmo

    Cosmo Well-Known Member

    Had the modem on my laptop shit out on me in the middle of a Big Sky tournament game back in the 90s. Luckily, there was a Kinkos down the street. Had to hustle over and use their computers and open a Hotmail account that I still use to this day for bills, online shopping, etc.
  7. Uncle.Ruckus

    Uncle.Ruckus Guest

    Wow. So you're the guy who still uses Hotmail. :D
  8. MTM

    MTM Well-Known Member

    Probably late 1980s and I had to file a JC state basketball game from 150 miles away from home.

    I stopped in a Bob's Big Boy to write and had to beg the manager to let me into the office where I could hook up my computer to a phone line.

    I offered him $20, on top of the money I had spent on dinner for me and my wife, who joined me for the drive.

    When he saw it took about 1 minute to transmit after I got the phone line, he refused the $20.
  9. Batman

    Batman Well-Known Member

    I did the convenience store thing once. Begged the clerk (who seemed to have a limited knowledge of English, and an even less expansive knowledge of computers) to let me use the phone, back in the days before wireless.

    In the days of wireless, I've driven around a small town looking for Wi-fi hotspots. Wrote in a church parking lot not far from the school, then ended up in a hotel parking lot and used their signal to send.
    Last season I sat at a table outside the fieldhouse of an out of town school, banged out my story in about 15 minutes and sent before they turned out the lights.

    Weirdest one might have been a few years ago, back before the golden age of wireless. Covered a game out of town, in a pretty rural area. Wrote in the coach's office, but when I went to use the phone they had some weird type of jack that didn't work with our computer. So I told the coach and he offered to help. Said he lived about a block away, right next to the field, and I could use the phone at his house.
    He didn't have me wait a minute while he finished up at the field, or drive me over there.
    He gave me the keys to his house.
    Keep in mind, this was not a coach we dealt with all the time. I might have crossed paths with him a time or two in earlier seasons, but I didn't know him at all.
    I went to his house (thankfully he either lived alone or no one was at home), hooked up to the home phone, sent the story and drove back to the field to return his keys.
    Gotta love small town trust sometimes.
  10. TheHacker

    TheHacker Member

    State soccer playoffs, semifinals on Friday night with finals on Saturday afternoon, location is all the way across the state from my office, so I had a hotel room there for Friday night in case our team won its semifinal game. Yes, this was in the 1990s, when small dailies had travel budgets, even for high school stuff. Those were the days.

    Tournament director assures me the pressbox will be open after the game so I can file. it was a high school stadium, but a nice one with a roomy pressbox and a phone. The game was supposed to be 8 p.m., but didn't start until past 8:30 because the first semifinal went OT. The team I was covering lost. I was down on the field right when the game ended and quickly caught the winning team's coach for a quote, but the team I needed to write about bolted off the field and into the locker room. I went in there -- the coach and the team knew me pretty well -- but I had to wait out the coach's postgame talk and wait for the players to compose themselves.

    I didn't feel like I took all that long getting interviews, but I walked out of the locker room just in time to see the stadium lights go dark. Not a real big crowd, so it didn't take long for the place to empty out. I race up to the pressbox -- where my laptop is still on and running -- and I find it locked. Everyone is gone. Tournament director who said I could file from there? Nowhere to be found. I did find a custodian, who opened the pressbox for me, but he made it clear he had no intention of waiting for me to finish writing, so I had to grab everything and run.

    It's pitch-black, I'm in a town I've never been to before, I kinda-sorta know how to get to the hotel, but not really. And oh by the way, it's probably 10:30 and I'm supposed to file by 11. So the adrenaline is pumping and I get in the car and floor it. About a half a mile up the street from the school, guess what I see in my rearview? Cop car.

    I get pulled over by a cop who has nothing better to do on Friday night than bust me for doing 46 mph in a 35 zone. And he took his sweet-ass time about it. I told him I was a reporter on deadline, which I'm sure probably made him move even slower. After I gave him my license and registration, he said he'd be right back and I grabbed something in my front seat and threw it in frustration, and he doubled back to my window and gave me attitude, "Is there a problem?"

    All I could think about is trying to get my story done, and so with no regard for the fact I was talking to a cop who just pulled me over I blurted out something about how I need to make deadline, and he told me to calm down. Fucking prick. I felt like telling him if he wanted to talk to someone who wasn't calm, call my editor.

    I had part of my story written. It was a two-goal game, so there wasn't much suspense. If I'd had 10 or 15 minutes in the pressbox I'd have been fine. I missed deadline by probably those 10 or 15 minutes.
  11. murphyc

    murphyc Well-Known Member

    A few years ago I was freelancing for a paper in Iowa, covering a race. Knowing timing would likely be tight, I arranged with the operator of the racing series to use his motorhome and wi-fi to file my story (no pressbox, etc.) Race ends, do the interviews and hoof it to the motorhome to crank out the story. That's when I discovered the series operator hadn't shared our arrangement with his wife. She comes into the motorhome and flies off the handle at me for invading her privacy (among other things). Long story short, I had to leave. I ended up crouched at the back of a trailer (only place I could get the tempermental wi-fi to work), quickly finished the story and filed. Never covered that series again.
  12. YGBFKM

    YGBFKM Guest

    Early in my career (1996), the prep football team I was covering made the playoffs for the first time in ages. Of course, the opening game was 300 miles away, literally across the entire state.

    Up until that point, the longest trip I had ever made wasn't half that. This was going to be the first trip in which I stayed overnight (booking a hotel room was a HUGE deal for hometown paper back then), so I already was nervous. It turned out that, in order to get a good deal, the paper booked me a room in a "neighboring" town -- 30 miles away.

    Anyway, I get to the game in plenty of time after my first-ever expensed meal (Captain D's!) and head up to the press box. It's packed. Announcers, radio people, a few other writers and seemingly every hillbilly that ever made it to the 10th grade at this school. I look around and notice there's a stool -- like for a toddler -- in the corner. From that corner, the view from the 20-yard-line on the far side was obstructed. To see anything that happened in those 30 yards (counting the end zone), I had to get up from the fucking piece of kiddie furniture I was stuck sitting on, stick my head out the window as far as I could and strain to see.

    Why didn't I cover the game on the sidelines? Did I mention it was about 35 degrees and pouring? Why didn't I just brave the elements and not put up with the press-box hassle? (Anyone who knows me, even remotely, raise your hand if you think I was dressed properly)

    So I was stuck in the Deliverance press box the entire game, and wouldn't you know all but one score occurred on the side of the field I couldn't fucking see. Luckily, the team I was covering won, so I figured a cheery postgame locker room would help brighten things up, and I headed to the visiting fieldhouse. For some reason, the coach decided to do his interviews outside -- in the cold and rain (did I mention I was not dressed appropriately for the weather?).

    After about 10 minutes, my hands were too cold to write fast enough, so I walked away and went in search of a place where I could send from. Why didn't I check this before the game? I was young; don't judge me. It turned out, after angrily stalking around the area for another 10 minutes, there was no place to send from at the field. At this point, I had about 90 minutes to send. I was really fucking cold, so instead of continuing my search for a place to send from (full disclosure: I never learned to send from gas stations, people's house, etc. because I was rarely in such a position), I decided to hop on the interstate, head back to the hotel and send from the comfort of my room.

    On the way back, because of the fucking rain, I missed the exit -- to the "neighboring" town 30 miles away. Wouldn't have been much of a problem, except the next exit was closed due to construction and the exit after that was 8 miles away (no, I was not in Wyoming, but at that moment I wished I was). So I had to drive another 10 minutes before I could even turn around (still really fucking cold and swearing like, well, swearing like me the whole time).

    About 45 minutes after I left the field, I got back to the hotel. I ran up to my room, threw the laptop on the bed and frantically started typing. After about 30 minutes, I had my story finished (the only thing all night that went, in any way, efficiently). I moved to the other bed, pulled the small dresser-like thing away from the wall and ... FUCK! The outlet was broken.

    In hindsight, perhaps I could have gone down to the lobby and asked about filing from there. But I was 24, wet, angry and a tad flustered. I ended up calling into the office and dictating my story, hanging up with about a minute to spare. I then walked outside, surveyed the barren landscape of the shitty southern town from my shitty balcony of the shitty hotel, shook my head, swore a little more, turned around, slammed the door behind me, turned on the TV and quickly began a few hours of fitful sleep.

    The next morning, I drove home, with the indelible memory of a forgettable night and the indigestion of a fried fish dinner along for the entire ride.
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