People who practice our trade know all too well that despite public impression none of the hundred or so tales that come to us over the course of a month ever arrive whole and in a neatly tied bow.
Stories, we have all been told in English 101, have a beginning, a middle, and an end – hopefully delivered in order and in an interesting fashion.
In local journalism we are often given an ending, maybe parts of a middle, perhaps a tantalizing bit of a beginning – and left to figure it all out.
Back in the Glory Days of newspapers, with stables of reporters in the barn with their feet up and every one of them slavering for a byline, all an editor had to do was say: “You, WhatEverYourNameIs, Man Bites Dog at Fifth and Main – get down there and bring back the story or don’t come back at all (we actually had an editor tell us that once, put the Fear of God in us)… and make sure you get the mutt’s name.”
Not to make too much of a moan out of it but it’s harder these days, with scribblers finding more lucrative professions and truth proving to be elusive even in the best of times. There aren’t enough of us, and there are plenty of stories out there.
Yesterday reinforced that belief for us, unfortunately, as the threads to a couple of stories we were pulling on came away in our hands, sources dried up, doors shut, and we were left standing there thinking: “Hmm. What the hell just happened?”
There are a lot of reasons a story can get “spiked.” Witnesses back off earlier statements, local players make it known they don’t want “that sort of publicity” or a grieving family may impress officials with their wish to be left alone. Totally get that last one, having delivered more than our share of bad news face-to-face over the years.
But as we are reminded a dozen or so times a day it’s our job to figure it all out.
A short story on what sounded to us like the attempted abduction of a 12-year-old schoolgirl waiting for her bus in El Sobrante Tuesday was firmed up much later in the day and punctuated by news of a sexual assault on a 14-year-old girl at John Swett High School in Crockett after that. We were left thinking that perhaps the culprit in the El Sobrante incident had gone on to find a victim in Crockett – and though the suspect’s methods in both cases were a near match descriptions we were given appeared different.
We were also still pulling on the threads of a story in San Ramon after a person fell into a fountain, apparently hit his head, and nearly drowned or worse – we’re still not entirely certain and, if anyone is talking, they’re not talking to us.
In Moraga, we asked local officials about the condition of a child neighbors told us was found in distress inside a car at a local home. We were keeping our fingers crossed for a happy story about a sturdy neighbor or firefighter rescuing the infant, prepared to leave it at that, until everything went “Poof,” and we’re not entirely certain what exactly how things ended though the folks hammering us to find out say it was not good.
We hope not. But we don’t know for sure. And all we have left is a fistful of threads.
We’ll see what develops today.