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How to handle unreturned calls?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by copperpot, Nov 6, 2008.

  1. copperpot

    copperpot Well-Known Member

    I could really use some advice here. A local college recently started a program where athletes are going into the community and helping non-profits. Not many people know about it. I went to the college a couple of weeks ago to talk to some of the athletes, and I ran into the AD, who implemented the program, and told him I'd love to talk to him about it. He said that would be great, gave me his office and cell numbers and told me to call on Halloween between 1 and 4.

    So I did. Several times. Both numbers. And all I got was voicemail. Called both numbers throughout the week and again only got voicemail. All along, I was friendly in the messages and repeated how much I'd like to talk to him and encouraged him to call.

    Yesterday, he finally answers. He asks if he can call me back that evening. Great!

    Of course, he never did.

    I was pissed. I had to watch my nieces and my own little girl last night. I rearranged my schedule just so I could be free in case he called, since it had been since a struggle to get him on the phone.

    So where do I go from here? Do I just keep calling? And if so, do I mention how incredibly frustrated I am? I mean, this is a positive piece about his program -- I might understand a little more if I was doing a hatchet job and he was evading me. When he answered yesterday, incidentally, he didn't apologize for not having returned any of my dozen calls.

    I guess my dilemma is that I feel like a jerk if I don't stand up for myself. But the fact is, I still want to talk to the guy -- it will make my story a lot better. And I don't want to give him any reason NOT to call, since he seems to have plenty of those already, whatever they are.

    Thanks a lot for reading and for any feedback.
  2. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    I would either:

    A) Blow off the story
    B) Arrange an appointment to talk to the AD face-to-face

    This stuff happens all the time. Usually not on a story like this, though. Your AD is acting like the typical source trying to avoid you. Not sure why, though.
  3. Joe Williams

    Joe Williams Well-Known Member

    It's the natural imbalance in most of our reporting relationships, where we need the sources of information more than they need us. At least in the here and now (the story might be beneficial to his program long term, but your story needs his input right away).

    It's gone that way with teams (many of which prefer their own Web sites, where they can control the message) and with players (who no longer need offseason jobs and therefore goodwill in the community ... how quaint). They don't need us to do their jobs, not really, but we need them to do ours. So we have to put up with rudeness and worse, like it or not.

    You can always draw a personal line in the sand, in your head, for what you won't tolerate. Anyone crosses that, you kill the story (if you can) or write around them and move on. Airing someone out about it, though, would seem to require a pretty good or at least long-term relationship.

    Look at it this way: It's good preparation for that day, should it ever come, when you're out in the job market again, knocking on doors, leaving voice messages or sending off e-mails. The AD's behavior isn't much worse than most hiring editors or human resources types when dealing with applicants.
  4. reformedhack

    reformedhack Active Member

    I'd kill the story, quite frankly. There comes a point where you just have to cut bait, and it looks like you've reached it. But I'd call him to tell him that you're doing so because he blew off several opportunities to have a conversation.

    Stand up for yourself. Just because you're a reporter doesn't mean the rules of civil discourse no longer apply, and you should certainly feel free to express disappointment that he ignored your multiple attempts to reach him and blew off several agreed-upon conversation times. You can also say that it's unfortunate that his "good news" story won't have an opportunity to be told.

    You can do the passive-aggressive thing and say something like, "Did I get my wires crossed? After our earlier conversation, I was under the impression that you were going be available on Oct. 31 as discussed, but you weren't, and then I left 10 voice mail messages for you, but I never heard back, and then I was under the impression that you were going to call me back last night, but you didn't. I guess I got something confused. Well, unfortunately, I've had to move on to other stories. Thanks anyhow."

    If you can politely make him feel like a jerk, go for it. Seeing how he's the AD and you're going to have to deal with him again someday, tread carefully. But make your point.
  5. TheMethod

    TheMethod Member

    I'll bet that if, next time you see him in person, you asked, "Why didn't you call me back?" he would give you an answer and probably call you back the next time you needed him to.

    I don't think it takes much, usually. Unless this guy is just a terrible person inside, he's not going to like the feeling of letting someone down and a simple in-person question like that will show that you're not going to let stuff like that slide, but you're going to be professional about it.
  6. jps

    jps Active Member

    yeah, rh is right. drop him a final voice mail. tell him you really wanted to do a story and that you thought it would be good for his program, but with him not returning your calls, there's just no way to get it done. "hope the next time we'll be able to get a story in the paper about your program."
  7. forever_town

    forever_town Well-Known Member

    I don't know if I'd kill the story outright. If you have other people involved with implementing the program, I'd talk to those folks. That doesn't mean I wouldn't call the AD and say I can't write the story if I don't hear from him. He doesn't have to know that I'll run it without his input.

    There's an old saying I heard years ago: "Do you want to speak to the person in charge or the one who knows what's going on?" Unless this AD is both, I'd speak to someone else who's intimately familiar with the program and get what I need that way.

    And if he calls you to bitch for not speaking to him, I'd remind him of all the times you called him without response.
  8. Diabeetus

    Diabeetus Active Member

    You can ALWAYS write around it. That goes for anybody on anything.
  9. PaperDoll

    PaperDoll Well-Known Member

    I wouldn't have let the guy off the phone when he answered.

    He's already proven unreliable by not answering at times he suggested you call, and ignoring your previous messages. There's no reason to trust his promise to call back this time.

    He should not be ducking your calls, since it's an obviously positive story. You already talked to the athletes involved, so write it without him.
  10. sounds like the story is good enough without quotes from the AD

    you've been persistent. don't spike the thing just because he won't call you back

    maybe the guy's a dick, but maybe he's just forgetful or very busy or both
  11. JR

    JR Well-Known Member

    Can you do the "Repeated phone calls to Joe Blow, the AD, were not returned".
  12. luckyducky

    luckyducky Guest

    At this point, if you really want to talk to the AD -- and get your point across about phone calls -- there is no reason why you shouldn't go see him in person. Plain and simple.

    If you're too busy or something, well most of these campuses have wi-fi. Just go sit in the athletic department building and work on a story or your blog while you wait for him to saunter in the door, then pounce.
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