By Tim Hayes
In the summer of 1981, between my junior and senior years of college as a journalism major, I had the privilege of serving a 10-week internship as a general assignment reporter at the late, great Pittsburgh Press daily metropolitan newspaper.
And, as most any college intern can attest, I learned so much more in those 10 weeks about true journalism and the real world of work than I had in the three academic years that came before.
Case in point: The day I got sucker-punched by a local diva TV reporter who will go by the alias here of Gideon Graham.
As eager, wet-behind-the-ears college cub reporters, that summer’s class of interns reported to the Press newsroom around 6:30 a.m., received our story assignments for the day from the city editor, and spread out across the region to gather the day’s news for the afternoon editions.
One gorgeous July morning, the city editor barked at me to get my sorry rear-end down to Point State Park – the place where Pittsburgh’s three rivers come together – to talk with the river police. There had been a suspected homicide by drowning overnight, and they were in the process of dragging the river, in the hopes of finding the victim.
The Point sat right across the street from the Press building, so I sprinted out the front door and spotted the cops along the banks of the Allegheny River. Full of wide-eyed excitement at another day’s chance to practice real-life reporting that thousands of readers would receive later that same day, I started chatting up the river police about their process, any progress they may have made in the case, and so on.
After a few minutes, they invited me onto the boat and I got to cruise a few laps up and down the river, while continuing my interviews with the police. A fantastic day, and it wasn’t even 8 a.m. yet.
They deposited me back at the Point, and said if I needed more information, they’d stop by again later to talk. So I promised to stay put. Then the hustle began.
Gideon Graham – he of the perfect hair, teeth, and ego…just ask him – provided field reports for a local TV station, and I saw the station’s satellite truck parked not far from the riverbank. While I waited for the river police to come around again, Graham casually strolled over and struck up a conversation with me. He must have caught the pungent aroma of reporter-rookiness wafting in waves from my visage, because for the next 10 minutes he pumped me for every bit of information I had worked to uncover over the past hour.
And there I stood, Captain Dum-Dum, just handing it all over, thinking how nice it was to be part of the local journalistic fraternity. What a dope.
Somebody from the truck yelled that they had two minutes to air, so Graham dropped me like a hot potato, ran over to the side-view mirror of the truck, posed and primped his narcissistic self, took his on-camera position with the river framed behind him, and accepted the live feed from the station.
Then the rat proceeded to divulge everything I had shared with him, live and in its entirety, scooping both me and the Pittsburgh Press in one fell swoop. It took another 20 minutes for my jaw to come up off the sidewalk. To be taken as a chump so badly, so thoroughly, and so easily – it became a lesson I’ve never forgotten.
It’s one thing to be helpful. It’s quite another to be played in the process. Gideon Graham, wherever you are, thanks for my first true experience with a smarmy, unethical jerk. Plenty more have darkened my doorway since then, but none has taken me for quite the same sort of ride. As I said, you taught me more that day than a gaggle of professors could ever hope to equal.
You had just better hope you and I aren’t ever standing next to a riverbank together again. Because this time, one of us is going in the drink. And brother, it ain’t gonna be me.
Copyright 2013 Tim Hayes Consulting