You’re not supposed to write about your friends.
It’s a pretty straight forward rule in theory. If you could be or if it appears that you could be unduly influenced by the person, you hand off the story to someone else.
But it’s a small town and it’s a small newsroom and sometimes there’s no way around it. Sometimes your friends are newsworthy and you’re the only one to write about it.
Saturday night I was the only reporter on shift with a skeleton staff for Sunday’s paper. The night before, a filmmaker I know had been on CNN to talk about a trial underway in Philadelphia for a doctor accused of murder and how his abortion clinic had been allowed to operate for so long.
It’s always news when a local person has his or her 15 seconds of national fame, but mostly they have minor parts, brief snippets on one show or another.
The filmmaker was brought on to join a panel of experts, due to a documentary he wrote and directed. It was front page news, here. But it had happened on Friday. To wait so someone else could write it would mean it wouldn’t run until Tuesday, too long to matter anymore.
So I called my friend and wrote the story that night, between the crime lists and obituaries and a late-night run to the ice cream store down the road.
“I’m working tonight,” I told him when I called, and we both knew it meant that for the next 10 minutes we’re not friends. For the next 10 minutes we leave out our spouses and children and life outside of the newsroom behind and I am just a reporter and he is just someone I’m interviewing.
Really this particular story isn’t a big deal – there’s nothing controversial about being on national television, so there’s no way I could be unduly influenced.
But it’s still odd when the rules of journalism are so completely broken.