Help Tell The Story. Don’t Be A Part Of It.

Opinions, Public Relations Posted Mar 8, 2017 by Mike Spinney

My college advisor and writing mentor, John Lannan, dispensed a lot of advice for the aspiring reporter. One that came to mind last night was, “A journalist should tell a story, not be a part of it.” That’s good counsel for a PR flak, too. We shouldn’t become part of the stories we help others tell. But there are times when circumstances put us in a story and instinct kicks in.

When I got to North Station last night the schedule display showed that the slate of trains scheduled to depart at 5:55 were delayed. Not an uncommon occurrence, but I’d made the effort to catch a ride home earlier than the 6:25 “Mike Spinney Has No Life Special,” and so I was mildly disappointed. After the train boarded and we crawled out of the station one of the conductors announced that we could expect “significant delays” on the ride home due to ongoing police action in Concord. The two previous trains were being held and we’d be taking our place in line.

commute

With too much time and a smartphone on my hands, train time is often Twitter time and so I tweeted.

When the conductor announced that we should expect major delays and, if possible, make plans to exit early and find alternative ways home, it was clear this was no ordinary situation. News from Mississippi of a bus-train collision that took four lives came to mind. My inconvenience should never become selfish whining when lives might be irrevocably affected or lost. Cold supper is no tragedy, after all.

I tweeted to the Channel 7 news team to see if they had more info and that’s when my simple inquiry put me on the fringes of the news.

By identifying myself as a rider on one of the delayed trains, one of the reporters dispatched to the scene DM’ed me for information. “What do you know? What can you see? What are the conductors telling you?”

I don’t know anything. I can’t see anything. You already know more about the situation than I do.

But, I’m a PR guy. I want to help. So I replied with what I knew and an honest assessment of my situation. I’m miles away from the action and, apart from conveying a rough transcript of the conductor’s unspecific announcement, I can’t give you anything that would be of use.

“Would it be okay if we did a telephone interview?”

It’s not going to do you much good.

I ended up taking a call from someone in the news studio who agreed that I had nothing of value to offer and thanked me for my time.

Then another reporter from a different station who apparently saw my tweets reached out.

“What do you know? What can you see? What are the conductors telling you?”

I don’t know anything. I can’t see anything. You already know more about the situation than I do.

TrainTweets“How long have you been stuck? Where are you? How long do you expect to be delayed?”

Not long. Silver Hill in Weston. No one knows.

At this point the train was stopped in a notorious dead zone so the DMs were moving a lot more slowly.

“Can you do a FaceTime interview?”

At this point John Lannan’s words came to me. Help tell the story; don’t be a part of it.

I was wearing a ratty ball cap and my winter beard was untrimmed. You really don’t want this on your broadcast. Besides, the MBTA Commuter Rail’s free WiFi is worth every penny… sorry, no can do.

Turns out some as-yet unknown punk had put a couple bottles of an incendiary chemical concoction on the tracks. One had gone off and sparked a brush fire. No one was hurt and no damage to the rails. The trains were held back in an abundance of caution and to allow the fire fighters and police officers to do their jobs dousing the flames, collecting evidence and removing the remaining bottles from the scene.

I made it home about the same time I would have had I been on the No Life Special.

Fielding the inquiries kept me occupied during the delay and kept me from my typical stream-of-consciousness tweet-storming under those circumstances. And, thankfully that was the only real tragedy.