Don’t get me wrong, an open newsroom that interacts with its readers is often extremely productive: perhaps a fair criticism is raised, a typo is corrected, or a solid news tip is passed along we can share with other readers.
Other times, not really.
Here are some of our favorites:
1. I once had a caller reporting a UFO hovering over his neighborhood. He demanded that a photographer and reporter be dispatched immediately. I asked him if he owned a camera. He said yes. I asked him to take a photo of the UFO himself and send it to me. He refused, insisting it was a job for a professional photographer only, and couldn’t we hurry up about getting someone over there before the UFO flies away?
2. When I worked at a radio station in the SF Bay Area, we used to get calls from a man who said he had survived a plane crash and was lying in a pool of blood. Two issues: (1) He was in Minnesota, (2) He called us regularly from this “pool of blood” for at least a year.
3. “When there are 2 minutes left in the game, that’s 120 seconds, right? Well, how come the scoreboard says there are 159 seconds left when the clock starts running again?”
4. We had someone call the other day to tell us we should have a reporter look into why our local A&W gave you a plain hotdog unless you specifically requested ketchup or mustard.
5. We ran a story on the front page about a little boy who was limping around school, and a teacher checked his shoe and found the reason why – his parents stash of marijuana was inside. The father was NOT happy the story ran and told my colleague the newspaper was going to be sued for “crimination.” He asked what exactly that was, and I don’t believe he received a satisfactory answer.
6. Regular caller, usually on weekends, first asks the time. Then, after a pause, will ask, “what day is it?” When we tell him, he usually says something like “thanks, I sleep so much I sometimes wake up a day or two later.’
7. When I worked at the LA Times Long Beach bureau back in 1987-88, we would get almost daily calls from a woman who would rant about the birds spying on her from the telephone line behind her house, among other things. She would already be in mid-rant when you picked up the phone and would not interact with anything you said except one time when I said, “Here is who you need to call” and gave her the number to the rival paper. She stopped and replied, “That’s the Press-Telegram. They don’t listen to me, either.”
8. When I worked at The Southern Illinoisan in Carbondale we used to get periodic calls to the main newsroom number from John Wayne Gacy—yes, really—who was imprisoned in our coverage area, just looking for somebody to chat with.
Sometimes though, an ostensible crazy isn’t so crazy after all. Romenesko shares his own story as a staffer at the Milwaukee Journal:
“At the old Milwaukee Journal, a woman called the city desk and said there was an elephant in her back yard and the paper should send a photographer immediately. The way the story was told to me—and I welcome other versions from Journal people—is the desk editor told the caller to go back to drinking. The next morning, the rival Milwaukee Sentinel had a big front page photo of the back-yard elephant, which had escaped from the zoo.”
Oh, and if there are any elephants in your backyard, you can always email me below.