I used to get phone calls and emails all the time about the health stories I’d write. See, the style on all news stories at my old paper (which we recently adopted at GraftonTimes.com now that there is more than one regular writer) is to close with the following line: Contact (reporter’s name) at (email) or (phone number).
Most people understood the message implied: here’s how you contact the person who wrote this story. And, most of the time, they got it. But most people did not write health stories.
There are two kinds of health story readers. There are the people who read the stories and say “oh wow, that’s interesting/disgusting, I hope that never happens to me.” The others are actually going through, or have a friend who is going through, what you happen to be writing about. A good percentage of them see the little tagline in italics and think, “Oh my god, that’s the doctor I should call!”
Dr. Jennifer Lord, my alter-ego, has never accepted patients. She had needed a lot of patience. “I’m sorry, I’m not a doctor,” I explained over and over again. “The person you need to call is the doctor I quoted in the story you just read.” Often, that contact information was even in the story — here’s the number to call to be included in this cool health study, here’s the location of this doctor’s practice, here’s a website, an email.
The Health section was published every Tuesday and, every Tuesday, the calls would come in. They’d plow in with highly personal details over my protests. They’d become angry when I tried to give them another number — clearly, I was giving them the runaround, saving my extensive medical knowledge for moneyed patients. Sometimes the stories would be sent out through our internal wire service and be picked up by papers around the country and I’d get confused calls from people in Illinois or Kansas. Sometimes, due to the miracle of the Internet, they would call weeks, months, even years after the fact and I’d struggle to remember the details of the story.
In fact, I would lay good odds that my former email is still receiving resumes for the New England Center for Children’s facility in Abu Dhabi. I wrote a story about the school opening and it was apparently posted on several message boards around the world. I had a stock response that I would cut and paste in reply, “I’m the reporter who wrote the story. I do not hire teachers. Please contact (the school administrator).”
All of this is a roundabout way of getting to today: a former co-worker emailed me to let me know that someone had called the newsroom “bat phone” seeking information about a story I wrote back in 2007. She wanted to know how to get in touch with a certain person in the story.
I looked at the name. I had no idea who it was. I didn’t remember the story — do you remember what you did at work back on a random day in 2007? I had to Google my own byline and the man’s name to come up with the article which, upon reading, I still didn’t remember writing.
I started dialing the phone and then stopped.
It was a story I wrote in 2007.
For a newspaper that laid me off back in October.
I don’t even remember the story and it’s pretty clear in the story how I likely got in touch with this man. There’s a contact email for the study he was involved with, for crying out loud.
My old stories, all of them, every single health study, surgery, new drug, new treatment, new method of care, breakthrough technology, heartwarming tale of beating the odds, heartwarming tale of a family coming together, heartbreaking tale of a family coming apart, heartbreaking losing battle? Are no longer my problem.
Let ’em Google with the rest of the world. Dr. Lord is OUT.