You know what’s crazy? I’ll tell you what’s crazy
I wasn’t suppose to talk to them. I wasn’t suppose to meet them. I wasn’t even asked to drive to the house.
But I did.
“The dispatcher can’t do the interview till noon,” I say to my photographer as we wind down a road less traveled.
“We could stop and get a cup of coffee, burn an hour,” I suppose out loud.
I look at my photog. He doesn’t need a cup of coffee. He needs opportunity to knock.
“Or we could head up to the home and see what we see.”
My photog smiles as he negotiates a random turn on a country 2 lane.
We arrive in the neighborhood 30 minutes later. For the last week, this tiny crossroads of green fields and tranquil ponds has been the epicenter of local news.
It’s here that a 5-year-old was reported missing. It’s here that a phalanx of volunteers searched fields, while helicopters hovered over ponds with heat seeking fleers and rubber rafts floated over the murky water with sonar.
It’s here that people hoped and prayed that little Joe would be found. It’s here that people gasped collectively as news exploded that the boy’s father beat his son to death and hid the body.
For the 1st time in a week, the community was calm. There were no crime labs in the driveway, no sheriff’s department cruisers blocking the intersection.
“Let’s do it,” I say to my guy, as we pull down the dirt driveway.
As if on cue, 3 grandparents round the side of the simple double wide trailer.
I told my photographer that if anyone shows up, we’re going to be rolling. We are going to capture the moment on camera and we’ll sort out the details later.
The grandparents gather around and begin to talk.
It is cathartic, effusive, exclusive.
I am respectful, mostly listening, occasionally channeling the conversation.
The grandparents are obviously in shock. It is clear to me they loved their grandson completely, without hesitation.
The grandfather holds back tears. The sense of loss he feels is like atmoshpheric pressure squeezing his heart.
The quiet of the backyard near the swing set accentuates their pain.
The news that their own son is the killer and the child’s mother allegedly complicit in this horror, is almost too much to bear.
The grandparents shake with emotion as they give me quote after quote of television gold.
They tell me they don’t believe their grandson is dead.
“He’s been abducted,” they will tell me repeatedly.
“He’s in God’s hands,” they will say reverently.
After 15 minutes, I thank the family and tell them I hope they find the child, I hope they get closure, for the family and this community.
I get in the car, and look at my photographer. A sense of journalistic accomplishment races through my synaptic system.
“That’s a grand slam dude,” I say fist pumping my photog.
I was the 1st reporter on the scene to report this child missing. I was the 1st reporter to break the news on Facebook that the father was arrested in connection to his crime. And now, I am the first reporter to interview the family on camera, getting their raw, uncensored emotions.
My phone rings. It is our boss. He is ecstatic.
He asks us what the headline from the interview is.
Grandparents don’t believe a little boy is dead, I respond.
“Wow! That’s huge!”, he says. “I’ll see you on TV.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever heard a newsdirector says that,” my photog says with a smile.
The boss is happy.
This is the biggest get of the biggest story. We drove to a place where execution and opportunity sparked possibility.
As we prepare to get our assigned story, another exclusive about the dispatcher who took the father’s false call about his autistic son “escaping” from the house, my phone rings again.
“Hello!,” I say.
“You MOTHER F***ER!,” the angry voice screams on the other end.
I pull the phone from my ear and look at the name, realizing it is the other reporter in this county assigned to this story.
I will come to learn she is furious that we got the interview that she could not land. I will come to learn that the same grandfather we interviewed threw her off the property before. I will come to learn that when she saw me in the driveway doing the interview, she threw her notepad down in disgust.
I will come to learn she is deeply affected by our win and what she considers her loss. She will later tell her husband that she is so upset by our get, she can’t even eat.
“How did you get that interview?” she screams into the phone.
Now that I know who this is, I am one part confused by the tone of the call, and one part angered by it.
I tell her, almost apolegettically, that I did’t do anything extraordinary to get the interview. I tell her, trying to assuage her angst, that we were in the right place at the right time and the family was ready to talk.
She fires back with a shot across the bow.
“Yeah, well they don’t know who you are.”
I look at my photographer. His face is twisted as he hears her jealous words soil the tiny compartment of the news car.
I can feel the anger, the contempt, the jealous rage in her tone.
I don’t have time for this crap. “I gotta go,” I say abruptly.
I hang up without saying another word, cutting her sentence off in mid gasp.
“WTF, was that?,” I say aloud.
The reporter has some good traits. The fact that our win is her loss, tells me that she is competitive. But the fact that she is almost paralyzed by our easy get tells me that she is dangerous, and not a team player.
“This is like a football team,” I will tell my photographer later. “I caught the winning TD pass and we won the game. Everyone is happy. The fans, the coaches, the other players. But in the lockerroom later, the other wide receiver who didn’t catch the winning TD pass is complaining that she was open and the ball should have been thrown to her.”
I don’t like the stench that lingers from her call. It has cast a long shadow over an otherwise bright moment for me and our news organization.
I have a cup of coffee, and cleanse my thoughts.
I think about writing a script, but quickly tear the pages out of the binder and crumple them up.
“I’m going to let this one breathe,” I tell my photog.
I’m going to talk about how emotional it was in the lead in and then let the grandparents do the rest.
We proceed to find the most telling, illuminating and emotional sound bites and butt them together. We cover the edits with pictures of the search and shots of the child.
Hours later we will join the other crew to do a live shot.
The angry reporter’s photographer walks up to me and fist bumps me.
“Man when she saw you in that driveway,” she lost it, he will tell me.
I will talk with the other reporter but it is strained. She is angry and can barely look at me. It’s as if I stole food from her mouth and then ate it myself, depriving her of much needed nourishment.
I will talk to the sheriff of the county for a long time. The other reporter watches from the front seat of her news car as she prepares for a live shot that essentially says nothing.
I will find out later that my mere presence is like rat poison to her being. She is so overcome with jealousy and self importance, she has lost touch with the fact that as a news operation we won.
My win is our win. My get is our win.
I stand in front of the camera at 4pm and begin to intro the story.
I’ve heard the package and it is gut wrenching good.
I don’t have a TV monitor before me, so I watch her photographer’s facial expression. With every emotional, gut wrenching sentence uttered by the grandparents, the photographer’s face twists. At one point he doubles over as if it is his own grand child that is dead.
We are congratulated multiple times for getting this powerful interview.
By the next day, the tidal wave of thanks is over.
This is a what have you done for me lately business.
With a new dawn comes new expectations.
The reporter whose dreams were crushed on Wednesday will go right back to that same driveway Thursday.
She will force her way into their home and get another interview with the same people I talked to the day before.
Does she shed any new insight? Probably. Maybe.
She shows us our first glimpse inside the dingy trailer where the boy reportedly was bludgeoned to death.
The other reporter needs to be the center of attention, and today she will get that fix as she stands before the live camera and delivers her intro.
Another piece to a news puzzle.
Glad she got it. Glad she’s there. Good for us.
I’ve been doing this for 4 decades now.
I’ve run into this type of reporter many times before.
In the end, this reporter will move on to another job, or have babies and fizzle out.
In the long run, she’ll be another name I vaguely remember, another face disappearing into the who cares ether.
There are only a handful of co-workers who ever make a difference.
You’ve got to trust your partner and teammates.
When you score the big touchdown of the day and your co-worker says “YOU MOTHER F***ER!”
That’s when you keep your cards close to your vest and look over your back to make sure nobody is stabbing you in it.
In the end, it doesn’t change the facts that a little boy is dead, his parents in jail, and grandparents in shock.
When you think about it, nobody is a winner.