When I started out working at a newspaper years ago, I sat next to a veteran police reporter on the overnight shift. There was an old-fashioned wire machine that would print out police slips of murders that happened during the night. Most of them involved down-market victims in bad neighborhoods whose deaths clearly would never make the paper.
But he would dutifully call the police on each one and ask questions like: "Tell me about the body of that kid you found in the Harlem pool room—was he a MENSA candidate or what—" Or, "The woman you found dead in the alley behind the housing project—any chance she might be Julia Roberts or a member of the British Royal Family—"
I asked him once why he even bothered to make the calls since none of these murders seemed ever worth writing about in the paper.
"Hey, you never know," he said.
It was good advice back then, and it still is today. I try to teach it to all my reporters in the TV newsroom that I run now. Check every murder out. Never assume anything about a murder story. Follow the facts and the evidence on every murder—on every crime story—because you can never be certain where that trail might take you.
Okay, I don't always follow my own advice in the fast-paced, ratings-obsessed world of TV news where I make my living.
And usually it does turn out to be just a waste of time. But every once in a while, well...
Hey, you never know.
DORA & GRACE
The news meeting at Channel 10 was my favorite part of the day. That's when we talked about the stories to decide which ones to put on the air.
"Here's your talker of the day, Clare," said Maggie Lang, my assignment editor. "A guy goes into the hospital for hemorrhoid surgery. He's real nervous and has a lot of gas buildup. While he's on the operating table, he involuntarily lets go of a big fart. An oxygen unit catches fire, there's an explosion and the entire operating team gets blown backward by the force of the blast."
"Boom!" I said.
"The poor schmuck's lying there with half his rear end gone.
The hospital's looking at a big malpractice suit."
"I guess the operation backfired, huh—" one of the editors said. "Maybe we should start calling New York the windy city now instead of Chicago," another one quipped.
Everyone at the meeting laughed.
"All right, we'll use it," I said. "But do it short and play it straight. No giggling on air, no bad puns. We'll play it at the very end of the newscast."
My name is Clare Carlson, and I'm the news director at Channel 10 now. But I used to be a reporter. Not an on-air TV reporter, but a real reporter at a newspaper that sadly doesn't exist anymore. I was a pretty damn good reporter too. Even won a Pulitzer Prize a long time ago. Yep, Clare Carlson, Pulitzer Prize winner. That's got a nice sound to it, huh— And I still think of myself at heart as a reporter, not a news executive. I guess that's why I liked this meeting so much. It gave me a chance to get away from budget planning, ad sales, rating demographics and—at least for a little while—just be a journalist again and worry about the stories.
"What's our lead story going to be—" I asked everyone.
"Probably the chaos at Penn Station," Maggie said. "There was another derailment there this morning. No one really got hurt, but they had to cancel most of the trains. The delays getting in and out of the city are supposed to extend into the evening rush hour too. There's great video of angry commuters packed in there waiting for the trains—yelling at conductors, demanding answers, chanting for someone to be fired over this latest commuter mess there. One of the angry passengers even assaulted an information clerk who couldn't give him an answer as to when his train might be running again. That video's already gone viral on social media. We could start off with it and then go with all the other commuter chaos footage."
I looked around the room.