One of the things I love about my job as sports editor at the Longview News-Journal, and now Sunday columnist for several of our M. Roberts Media newspapers, is the occasional opportunity to speak at a local sports banquet, luncheon or career day.
I enjoy talking about a 35-year career that has allowed me to have the best seat in the house for thousands of sporting events and to tell the stories of your East Texas neighbors.
When I do have the chance to speak at an event, I’m inevitably asked the same question: What is my least favorite part of the job?
That’s easy. It’s the dreaded “Caller of the Day.”
I’m not talking about the concerned citizen who wants the newspaper to check out something that isn’t right or cover an event they believe is important to our area. I’ll take those all day long.
I’m not even talking about the irate caller who chews us out for making a mistake. The only thing I hate more than missing out on a good story is messing one up. Doesn’t happen often, and when it does, feel free to let us know about it and we’ll do our best to fix it.
But, the Caller of the Day is different. Here are some actual examples.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, a caller accused us of only running stories to scare people and sell newspapers and he blamed the media for playing the pandemic up like the Bluebonnet Plague (his words, not mine). Also, according to the caller, if folks would simply wash their hands and quit breathing (again, his words, not mine), COVID-19 would simply go away.
A few weeks into the 2020 football season, a caller finally got mad enough to reach out and ask why we hadn’t written anything about the Longview Lobos. He got angry when I told him the University Interscholastic League hadn’t even started letting 6A and 5A teams – that included the Lobos – begin practice. He was furious when I wouldn’t transfer him to someone at the UIL, which is based in Austin and not in my building. He became belligerent when I told him we had written several stories about the change, and he finally lost it completely when I asked him not to call me on Saturday, Nov. 21 – the day after Longview’s open date – and ask me why we didn’t cover the Lobo game that DIDN’T happen the night before.
A caller, a young man, claimed I had been spelling his name wrong in the newspaper all season long. I apologized, asked him how to spell it, and assured him it would be correct for the rest of the year. When he spelled it, his mom – who was listening in the background – yelled at him and said he was wrong. That sparked a two-minute argument between the mom and son about the proper way to spell his name, and the mom eventually got on the phone and threatened me if I messed the name up again in print.
A caller wanted to fight me because I picked against his team in nine of the ten games that season in our “How We See It” list that published in The Zone weekly high school football preview section. When I pointed out I had been correct all nine times, and the only time I was wrong was when I picked his team to win, he called me bad names.
A man called and asked me to please get his wife’s birthday listed in the newspaper, but when I asked for the date, he said he couldn’t remember and had to ask her. She was still yelling at him when I hung up the phone. I said a little prayer for him.
I occasionally do television spots, and a nice lady called to suggest I smile during my time on the tube so I wouldn’t look mean and scary. Then, she told me I needed to get her grandson’s name in the newspaper more often. I was afraid to ask if she knew how to spell the name.
Keep those calls coming folks, but please be kind. I didn’t spell your name wrong on purpose, and it’s not my fault your husband forgot your birthday and your favorite team lost every game.
I might have the Bluebonnet Plague, however, so it’s probably best to avoid me in public. Especially if you’re mad at me.