Misadventures in Stranger Danger Reporting

26 Jun

Last summer, I worked for a little news site called Queens Beat. It was fun working there because I had a lot of freedom to choose stories, write creatively and set my own schedule. Overall I had a positive experience. But one time at work still sticks out as one of the worst experiences as a journalist (with today’s experience coming in at like 3rd).

I was covering the Forest Hill’s summer fair, interviewing little venders selling tchotchkes and cake-pops and taking photographs of children on jumpy castles (because nothing makes you feel more creepy than being alone and taking photos of other people’s unattended children).

I took this! Whose child is this? I have no idea.

I took this! Whose child is this? I have no idea.

I was snapping photos of a nicely-dressed Jewish woman rummaging through a pile of T-shirts at a booth when her younger friend or daughter put up her hand like some sort of B-list celebrity and said “Please no pictures!”

The older woman ran up to me and demanded to know why I was taking photos. I explained that I was a reporter and covering the fair. She got all worked up and started screaming about how I wasn’t allowed to take photos without people’s permission and that I delete her photo immediately. I decided not to be a jerk and I showed her while I deleted the photo. “Did you take more pictures of  me or other people?!” she screamed. “Give me your camera! I’m going to delete them!”

I actually laughed in her face. “Do you think I’m stalking you or something? Do you think I’m following you around this fair snapping pictures of you looking at shitty earrings??” I asked.

“Give me your camera!” she shouted again. “I’m going to call the police!”

At this point I just jutted out my chin, “Call them,” I dared. And then slowly started walking away as she screamed after me. I was rattled but mad that I didn’t know the laws of photography in public. Was she right? On my way home I stopped two cops and related the story, asking them what they would do if she had really called them. They looked at each other and one simply responded “laugh?”

Ah, NYC cops always having a good time out there.

Ah, NYC cops always having a good time out there.

Later, I looked up the laws in NY and learned that basically if you’re in a public place, you can take pictures of whoever and whatever you want – with or without their permission (unless they’re actually trying to be hidden, weirdly enough). And if you’re in a private place, like a store – the owners can ask you to stop taking pictures or make you leave but no one, not even the police have the right to make you delete pictures. I wish I could run into this lady one day and be like “YOU WERE WRONG” and possibly stick my tongue out at her. I didn’t even want to use her dumb face in my story. (So, if an obnoxious older Jewish woman from Forest Hills sounds familiar – it might be the one – tell her to call me.)

So, I had been working on this eco-friendly store story. I mentioned to you guys that I stopped by to set up an interview with the owner yesterday evening, and he was very suspicious of the story. Thinking I was going to portray the store as some sort of head-shop because some things were made from hemp. As much as I tried to explain that I think the concept of organic clothing was interesting to readers or why someone would open a store like this, he still wanted to make it clear he did not want to be interviewed, “If I’m not in style, I can never be out of style,” he added cryptically.

I left the store with plans to meet up the next day, happy to make progress on the story. I stopped in Whole Foods to pick up some milk (at some point I need to discuss how hard it is to shop for one person – I keep thinking I can stock up on things like milk and bread without realizing I’m the only one drinking it). I had walked around for 15 minutes and was paying at the register and turned around to see the owner standing right behind me. A little started, I said “Oh, hello again…” and he asked for a card. I explained that I was an intern and didn’t have one – but I gave him my email address.

I was leaving the store when I realized just how alone I am in Baltimore (and how much I keep talking about it online). And how if someone ever followed me home, really who would know if I was murdered? It also doesn’t help that my film class keeps making me watch movies chock full ‘o gore (No Country For Old Men or rather Why Did We Fire the Sound Technician I Can’t Hear A Damn Thing alternate title MumbleCity2000)

Today at work, I checked my e-mail at noon to see an e-mail from him. It started out really nice, saying how flattered he was to have me show interest in the store. and then this:

 I personally did not feel that comfortable and at ease at all when you stopped in the shop yesterday and offered your proposal for doing a story on my shop. Reason being and for your consideration of course, you seemed nervous which in turn made me feel nervous about doing an interview for promotional purposes with you.

What? I am nervous because my job is talking to strangers and I am better more suited to the Twitterverse. Also, harsh because when I stopped by the store I was in full on reporter-mode, with my tape recorder and iron constitution. I guess that wasn’t apparent.

Also, I felt there was no representation as to what newspaper or journal you are representing which did not instill confidence in me at all that our interview and experience would be accurate and in the best intentions of all parties involved. Please let’s hold OFF on our 3pm appointment today.

Why would I be writing a FAKE article about a store? Why would someone pretend to be a reporter, then act all nervous about the interview? I can’t stop trying to think of the endgame of this nefarious long-con idea. What exactly would I have to expose of his shop? That it was empty? That seaweed skirts are so last year?

My editor offered to call the owner to vouch for me, but I think I’m going to be sticking to my sweatshop-friendly sundresses and staying far, far away.

The thing I like best about reporting the meeting the people behind the event, store, charity, protest. The human aspect of it is what I like to discover the most. But sometimes that human aspect is crazier than Kim and Kanye’s concept of appropriate baby names (topical!)

Anyways, in other news: Me!

Not pictured: My hilarious jokes about being drunk at 11 a.m. which they unfortunately cut out.

Not pictured: My hilarious jokes about being drunk at 11 a.m. which they unfortunately cut out.

If you’re wondering why one article says J and the other is because one is my alter ego and one is me. I’m actually a superhero and that’s my pseudonym.

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