The reaction is usually swift and fierce when some clueless dad is caught complaining about having to “babysit” his children. You know, something otherwise known as parenting. It’s what you sign up for when you have a child!
That’s the same reaction I often have when I see a reporter complaining in a news story about how difficult it was to get an answer from an agency, or how long it took to track down a document. Yes, those things are frustrating (so frustrating they dissuaded me from becoming a reporter altogether!) but they’re also the job. Reporters do tough work. They find needles in haystacks. They pore through tedious documents. They confront powerful people. But all of that is precisely what they signed up for.
Even I’ll admit, though, that there’s a point at which the sausage-making itself becomes news. I can’t articulate what that moment is exactly, except to say it involves accountability.
This week, this snippet of a Buzzfeed story made the rounds all over Twitter:
When asked why the airline had the man forcibly removed, and whether that was standard procedure in cases of overbooked flights, United refused to comment.
Instead they told BuzzFeed News all further questions should be referred to Chicago Police. BuzzFeed News contacted Chicago Police and were told to contact the Chicago Department of Aviation. When BuzzFeed News contacted the Chicago Department of Aviation, the call was transferred to a TSA message bank. A TSA spokesperson later told BuzzFeed News they were not involved and to contact Chicago Police.
Reporters shared the passage like crazy, mostly commenting on how well it captured the chasing-your-tail nature of reporting: the information you need is always being dangled just out of reach, by someone you can never quite track down.
But if that were all the section captured, then as an editor, I’d cut it. It’s not, though, which is why it works so well in the story. It also captures the fact that no one could answer questions on, and thus be held accountable for, an incident that impacts the public.