About this series: I revisited my journals from my first year as a freelance writer and found they told a story of their own. In this series I get the rare opportunity to give myself and other writers career advice with nearly 50 years of hindsight. Enjoy!
I have always hated is chasing ambulances. The Journal Opinion had a radio scanner for the police and fire bands, standard equipment in most newsrooms.
Fires usually provided good photo opportunities, and the firefighters were happy to tell their stories. Some automobile accidents offered dramatic photos, although details were often hard to get.
And let’s face it, police don’t like to talk to reporters. Silence is part of their job. Any news came from the official report or the chief.
But then came the afternoon when an ordinary ambulance call turned into news — on a day when there was already a backlog of routine copy to be dealt with.
No writing accomplished today. Instead, visited … the J-O, where I was soundly buried in work well before I was called on to chase out a hunting accident.
There I became persona non grata, not only because I had a camera and carried a notebook, but because I (mistakenly) let myself into a private home. Fortunately, the people had a good sense of humor, and I apologized. I wouldn’t have bothered them if I hadn’t had a dead battery.
Needless to say, I was in a lousy mood when I returned to work, 1 1/2 hours later. All the copy got edited, but I still have a backlog of 6 stories to write tomorrow.Journal, Volume III
3 November 1979
Dispatching an ambulance to a hunting accident was unusual, although not surprising. It was hunting season, and the address was far out of town in a sparsely populated section. I hopped in my trusty yellow Chevy Vega wagon with the PRESS sticker on the side, put the headlights on high beam in midday to show I was on assignment, and headed out.
In those days before GPS, I lost my way. By the time I got there, the ambulance had long since left but I knew I had the right place because the state trooper’s car blocked the driveway. I parked my car behind it and hiked down the drive.
Eventually I found the trooper talking to some witnesses outside the house, a large place that had the air of a club or hunting lodge. I did my job — asking questions — and he did his — dodging them. Then I hoofed it back down the driveway to my car.
When I went to start the long drive home, the engine wouldn’t turn over. I left the headlights on while the car was parked behind the cruiser. So back down the driveway I trotted to get a jump from the trooper, or at least a phone call to a garage.
Finding no one outside, I knocked on the door. No answer, so I let myself in. The trooper was in the kitchen, chatting over coffee with the homeowners. I had walked into their home unannounced, uninvited. I’m lucky I wasn’t shot.
The family members were not amused, but the trooper took pity on my embarrassment. He walked me back out to the car and gave me a jump start.
Today I would hesitate to send a reporter to a reported hunting accident. Sometimes these are not accidents at all, but attempted homicides or suicides. If the former, a full police statement will eventually come down. If the latter, it’s best kept private.
Either way, it’s best to not become a victim yourself.