Has this ever happened to you?Posted: May 31, 2011
I’d love for you to think I’m such an expert that I never screw up and my stories just flow from my computer straight into print, but it’s not good to lie. So here’s what happened to me recently. I got this assignment from a travel magazine. I had pitched it last fall. For six months, I heard nothing. I assumed they didn’t want it. Then, out of the blue, I get an email: If you’re still interested in writing it, we want it for the September issue. I thought: What? I said, “Great! Sure, I’ll just drive up to Washington for a few days, do a little interviewing, take some new pictures and shoot you the story.” I contacted the subject. Yes, she was up for a story. She looked forward to my arrival.
Sounds pretty good, huh? It was about a six-hour drive each way. I put the dog in the kennel, packed for three days, and headed north. The weather was great. I was happy to get away. I wandered around taking pictures, thinking things were looking a little shabby, but no big deal. It wasn’t tourist season yet. Then I sat down with the director of the place for our interview. We got about a half hour into it, and she said, “I should probably tell you that I’m planning to close in October.” Uh, just for the season? “No, forever.” I started calculating. If the article came out in September and they were closing in October . . . Maybe they could still publish it. But probably not. Meanwhile we were still talking. She was saying maybe an article would help attract new funding. I was nodding my head, sure, sure.
I was screwed. Part of me thought, I don’t have to tell the editor. If I don’t mention it, she’ll run the story. I’ll get paid, and life will be good. Another part of me thought, No, she always fact-checks with sources. She will call, and the director will tell her. Sigh. Maybe I could sell it to another publication with a shorter lead time, or I could just post it on my blog.
So we finished the interview, very friendly. The pictures turned out great. I drafted the article while it was still fresh in my mind, just in case. Then I sent it with a sample photo and told the editor the truth. She mulled it over and said, “Sorry, but I love the picture!” I didn’t even qualify for a kill fee.
So what have we learned here? Always, always, before you dive into an article with both feet, find out if they’re closing, going out of business, or making drastic changes within the next year or so. You can couch it in positive terms, e.g., “What exciting things are you planning for next year?” But do ask. I know I will in the future.
It was a nice trip anyway.