Calls reporters shouldn’t answer

Inhabitants of today’s high-tech, 21st-century offices should remember that, even though they may have e-mail, faxes and a dozen telephones each, they may still not be able to communicate.

We learned that lesson here in our dimly lit newsroom a short time ago when several of us attempted to answer the telephone and several others of us tried to transfer the call that the others had tried to pick up.

Things began to go weird when our office manager selfishly decided to take 10 minutes off one afternoon and left us to fend for ourselves.

Since we frequently receive friendly reminders about how and when to answer our newsroom telephones in an efficient and amicable manner, most of us thought we’d be up to the task when the absent manager’s phone began to ring insistently one otherwise unremarkable afternoon.

Hey, most of us are college graduates and the newspaper business has taught us to think on our feet under all sorts of conditions, so how difficult could it be for one of us to answer a simple phone call?

Answer: Very, very difficult …

Trouble started – as it so frequently does here – when the city editor picked up the incoming call.

To her credit, she completed the task and was helpfully trying to transfer the call to the newsroom manager’s voice mail, but because the phone rings three or four times even when one transfers a call to voice mail, others of us decided it would be a good idea to pick up what we thought was a new incoming call.

Of course, the first of our team of geniuses to pick up the call politely apologized to the caller and promised to transfer her to the manager’s voice mail post haste.

Except, er, that caused the phone to ring again and another staffer efficiently picked up the call.

Eventually, the city editor got her hands on the call again, transferred it to the appropriate voice mail and daintily bellowed “DON’T ANSWER THAT!”

At least one of us, however, heard only “… ANSWER THAT!” and promptly did so.

By then, the oft-transferred caller was trying to hold back hysterical laughter but managed once again to ask for the newsroom manager’s voice mail.

An elderly, mustachioed staffer (who shall remain very nameless), then took charge of the situation and promptly transferred the caller for the fifth time.

As luck would have it, the newspaper’s education reporter had just become aware of the telephonic chaos swirling around her and decided to put a stop to it by answering the phone.

At that point, the entire staff was bellowing “DON’T ANSWER THAT!” while the education writer stared at her red-faced colleagues in abject bewilderment.

“You guys are mean!” she eventually declared. “And crazy!”

I’m fairly sure our long-suffering caller finally got the newsroom manager’s voice mail, but now we seem to have yet another communication problem looming ominously on the horizon, because I don’t think the education reporter has answered her phone for a week …

Originally published May 20, 2007

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