Tuesday, September 19, 2006

What does this mean?

So, I've run up against a curious problem in my life. At first it was just annoying, but now it has grown to such proportions that I'm starting to think it means something.

Several weeks ago, I started working on a few assignments for a client. Let's call the client National Jewish Organization (NJO), and my job was to call various chapters and get information on their activities, write them up in separate articles, and hand them in. But many of the heads of the chapters were not calling me back, despite repeated (in some cases, 4-5) messages. It was very frustrating. I thought perhaps it's part of the culture of this particular organization not to call people back, but it was strange, since I was working for their own national office. Maybe they weren't calling back because I was not "real" media but rather calling from NJO.com? It was strange. The client wasn't too pleased that I wasn't getting things in, but what can I do if their own people aren't calling me back?

Then, about a week and a half ago, another client asked me to write an article for their magazine, on a very tight deadline. The story was about a certain health issue, the extent to which it affects Israelis in a specific part of the country, and what Israel or Israeli organizations are doing about it. So the first thing I did was call hospitals in that area -- some well-known, others smaller and more obscure, but still serving a respectably-sized population -- and asked to speak with the spokesperson's office.

At several hospitals, I left messages for the spokesperson (known among reporters as "the spox") when I got their voicemail. I found it surprising that they did not leave emergency numbers for the media, because this is Israel, where lots of people get injured in sudden terrorist crises or wars, and they are a hospital, and even the most obscure organizations generally leave an emergency number for reporters, and the nature of hospitals is that sometimes there are emergencies. But whatever. I left messages. Can you believe, that at not one but three hospitals, I never got a call back? From the spokesperson? And at one hospital, there was never any answer at all, not even voicemail? In the spokesperson's office? And at another hospital, I did reach the spox in person, and to my surprise, she spoke no English. Luckily I speak Hebrew well enough to get my questions across, but do you mean to tell me that in the entire area (granted, not near one of Israel's biggest cities), a hospital cannot find a media spokesperson who speaks English? I don't mean to be Anglo-centric, but . . . it's the media office.

Anyway, between the hospitals and one major university with a Medical school (the spox at universities do speak English and do call back), I eventually managed to get the phone numbers of several doctors whose expertise lies in the subject of my story. One called back pretty much right away, but at a time I couldn't talk, so we set another time, and then when I called her, there was no answer. Over the day I left two messages for her, but she never called. And one other professor called me this morning -- after I've been trying to get someone to interview for over a week -- and when he heard what I wanted, he said he can't spend the time to talk with me today, and we'd have to schedule an interview for a later date.

A week of calls, one scheduled interview to show for it.

Meanwhile, I was also working on an assignment for NJO that involved "fleshing out" the story with people from outside their organization, specifically college students who attended one of their programs. After pulling teeth some more to get people in NJO to call me back, I finally got the phone numbers of two students who had agreed to be interviewed. I called them and called them but was always leaving messages. Finally I sent them each an email saying "unless I hear from you otherwise, I'm calling you in 2 days at 8:00 [or 8:30] am your time."

The second [8:30] student, I did manage to reach at the appointed time, and she gave me a fantastic interview. Very nice and helpful young lady. The first student, I called this evening at 8:00 am her time, like I'd said. Busy. Busy 10 minutes later. And 10 minutes later. Finally she called me, saying she has bad phone reception, and could I call her back so she won't be paying for the call? So I called her back. Busy Busy Busy.

Later I left my apartment for literally 5 minutes, to return something I'd borrowed from an upstairs neighbor, and when I got back there was a message from the missing student. The message said "I saw that you called, but there is something wrong with my phone, so when I picked up nothing happened. Sorry. I don't think I want to do this interview anymore. I don't like it. It's not working for me. Bye."

Uh, ok.

So, the bottom line is that everywhere I turn, interview-wise, I get stuck. People don't have voicemail, or they don't call back, or their phone is broken, or they don't call back, or they are busy today and I have to call again later, and then they are not home, or they don't call back.

I don't think I'm doing anything differently. I leave the same sort of message I always do: "Hi, my name is Sarah so-and-so. I'm a reporter in Jerusalem. I'm writing an article in English for Publication XYZ about topic ABC, and was wondering if I could interview you for the story [or: if you could recommend people from your institution whom I could interview]. Please call me back at [my number] or [my cell number]. Thank you." If appropriate I mention that I'm on a tight deadline. If the voicemail message is in Hebrew, I normally leave the message in Hebrew; if it is in both Hebrew and English, I leave it in English. If the message is for someone in the States, and I am leaving my VOIP number, I do what I always do, usually to great effect: I specify that "this is an American number, so it is a domestic call for you, but it rings in my apartment in Jerusalem. I'm 7 hours ahead of you, so the best time to call is when it is moring in New York [or whereever]." Normally this all works. But all of a sudden, I'm a persona non grata.

I feel like there is a message in this, but I don't know what it is. I'm not usually the type to associate a problem like this with my spiritual state, or anything I'm personally doing wrong, but when it becomes so repetitive, from people in different countries and stations in life, then it makes me wonder whether maybe there is something I myself am doing that is making me be "stuck," and something I have to change in order to get "unstuck."

Any thoughts?

No comments:

Post a Comment