You know what one of the most frustrating things about being a freelance writer is? I mean, other than all the lack of benefits, job insecurity and not having your own vending machine or coworkers to complain to and all that sort of stuff?
When someone refuses to talk to you because you’re writing a story for a publication that is not widely known. Argh. This drives me nuts.
I mean, sure there were plenty of times that people refused to talk to me when I wrote for the daily newspaper, which was pretty well-known, being the only daily newspaper in town. But usually that was because 1) they hated the newspaper, 2) they hated me (yep, that was fun), 3) they didn’t want to give any (more) attention to the issue at hand, or 4) they weren’t talking to the media in general.
Once when I was covering a city hall beat for The Desert Sun, a lady called me up to complain mightily about an article I’d written, saying that I’d given her side of the issue short shrift. Okay, I said, why don’t you tell me your side, and I’ll write another story. So she did. And I wrote another story. And oh, that pissed her off even more! I mean, how dare I follow through on my promise! She ranted and raved, and tried to say that she didn’t even remember being interviewed, so where would I have gotten all that stuff that I quoted her as saying? So she ranted and raved to my editor, saying I’d made it up. After she’d complained for awhile, my editor mildly asked her if what I’d written was incorrect. No, she said, it was exactly how she felt. And I pulled up my notes from the computer and read back some of her other quotes, and she grudgingly conceded that yes, she would have said that. You know, if she’d been interviewed. Uh huh. So what, exactly, needed to be corrected, my editor asked. Um, nothing. She was just mad–mad!!–that I’d dared to write about this hot topic yet again! Good God.
Anyway, I’m used to encountering people who don’t want to talk to the media. (Luckily, very few of them are as crazy as that lady was. Thank goodness.)
But I get so weary of having to defend what I’m doing when I’m writing a freelance piece for a legitimate client who just happens to not be a major newspaper or website. Let’s say that I am writing an article for a regional parenting magazine, and I want to interview someone with a health care group. It’s so frustrating to get ahold of that group and request an interview, only to hear “I’m sorry, but who did you say you were with? Who? Okay, we’ll get back to you if we can find someone…” and then never hear back from them. Or worse, to have someone basically tell you, “Sorry, but we’re not going to bother with you.”
Argh! I’m sorry that I’m not writing for the New York Times or the Los Angeles Times or CNN! (Believe me, I’m sorry. If I could write for them, trust me, I would be.) But I really am a serious journalist writing for a real publication, and my readers want and deserve good information. I’m trying to provide information from the best possible sources for these readers, so they will be as well informed as they can be about this topic. I know your time and resources may be limited, and I respect that, I really do. Maybe this particular time won’t work out. But to dismiss me outright? Forever? Isn’t that a little short-sighted?
It’s even more frustrating than working in an office and having the Coke machine take your dollar and not spit out a Diet Coke. Or worse: having the Coke machine take your money and give you a nasty old root beer instead of a Diet Coke.
I don’t know what to do about this. I don’t encounter it that often–most people are not going to come right out and tell you directly that you’re too small potatoes for them, but every once in a while they do. More often, it’s the “thanks so much for calling” followed by radio silence thing that makes me suspect that I’m too small potatoes for them. You can’t force someone to let you interview them. And would you even want to? So how do you convince these occasional reluctant sources to please just give you a chance?