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This is why reporters drink heavily

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

Here's another episode of backstage at the newspaper and why I'm grey and can't find a cure for my stress.

No one in journalism school ever tells young reporters about the need to acquire the ability to wait. Yes, interviewing, note taking and headline writing are all subjects one must master to make it in this business, but waiting is another.

Patience isn't just a virtue in this business, it's a requirement.

You have learn how to make a dozen calls to a dozen people for a dozen stories because writing stories is like trolling for fish. You have to cast your net wide. That's because sometimes the fish ain't biting.

You wait for those call backs, and wait and wait some more. The boss might think you're goofing off, but you're not.

It's always good to have a messy desk in this business to confuse the boss who might come snooping as well as having a couple of notebooks opened to scrawled pages. Rustle the papers, scowl at your notes, rinse and repeat until the supervisor has moved on to torture someone else.

Sincere disclaimer: Reminder Publications honcho Dan Buendo has never done this to me. Really. I've been in this business a long time and have worked for some true beauties. Dan is not among those.

Inevitably the person who calls you back first is the person you need the least. Because you're on the phone with that person you miss the call of the folks you really need. Now it's time for the second round of calls and staying a while in voicemail limbo.

It's rumored that reporters get some sort of karmic dispensation for all of the time we spend in voicemail. I certainly hope so.

A basic rule of thumb is the greatest demand to speak to an elected official about something is correlated with their lack of availability. Sometimes they're not ducking you, but sometimes they are.

And another real world rule is that elected officials basically only want to talk about things that benefit them. So you can't be surprised if they really don't want to comment about some screaming match they had with a city councilor. It's human nature, but as an elected official they are supposed to be accountable and candid about such matters.

That's right, this is "Zen and the Art of Reporting."

Today, I'm dashing out this column in sheer panic, thanks to the Finance Control Board in Springfield gotta make those deadlines, folks. I think I could easily gather up a tar and feather mob out of the reporters who were patiently waiting for the Thursday meeting to start.

Scheduled for 12:30 p.m. for the speak-out portion, the show didn't start until nearly 3 p.m. City Clerk Wayman Lee had the thankless task of conveying the periodic messages to the people waiting for the meeting that it would be conducted in another 30 minutes, 45 minutes, 15 minutes, etc.

Now Ray Hershel of ABC40, the acknowledged dean of the Springfield press corps although perhaps Sy Becker at TV22 could also have that title marshaled up all of his considerable influence and asked the minions if the FCB could give us a reasonable idea of when they would start and if they could talk about the juicy stuff first, such as School Superintendent Joe Burke and how the School Committee seems to think they are a force unto their own.

Even Ray couldn't move them, I thought sending in John "Binky" Baibak of WHYN for a second attempt would only irritate the beast. We would only use Binky in extreme cases.

So we chatted among ourselves, went to lunch and talked more with the folks waiting to speak.

Finally the FCB convened the meeting with a sincere apology from the chair, Christopher Gabrieli.

Now this isn't the first time the FCB has held up a meeting by having a closed-door executive session before the public meeting and I suspect it won't be the last. I just hope they appreciate the test they are giving us.

This column represents the opinions of its author. Send your comments online to or to 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, Mass. 01028.