People always say "I'd like to be a fly on that wall," when they're talking about being able to get the inside scoop on the real goings on among people.
Reporters, they're always hunting the inside story, the dirt, the scoop, the skinny, the REAL story, but they can't be the secret fly on the wall. They have to declare themselves and their intentions to observe, record and interview.
In my expanded capacity at the paper (the one where I'm asked to overcome all my social phobias and go out into public and speak to people ... in person, with words), I find myself saying things like this more often: "Hi, my name's Pam, and I'm here to cover your meeting for the paper."
That's the ethical thing to do — but then there's no hiding after that.
Once I've said that, I'm no longer a fly on the wall or even a wilted flower hugging the wall at the back of the room.
When you admit to being the designated interviewer or reporter of an event, you suddenly transform from being a human being into a big, fat elephant in the room, trying to inconspicuously crawl about on the wall. As if no one will notice. Yeah, right.
In a past life, part of my job was public relations, and one time I arranged a press conference that included television reporters. One of the TV guys asked if he could ask me a few questions. Of course, I said yes, but that was before he started setting up a video camera.
Oh, no no. No, no and no, but no. That was not what I had signed on for.
He thought we'd try this anyway. As if he had the cure for a lifetime of camera-induced flop sweats and brain short-circuiting.
I showed him — no, no, no and no. Just no, you can't make me sound intelligent in front of a camera by asking simple questions in an inviting voice.
He gave up, but as a consolation prize, I took him down the block to someone else he could interview who would be able to make him look good.
On the way, he decided to get a short segment of film of a window sign to show as a background visual while he recorded an introductory voice-over, so I waited while he set up the camera and started filming a minute or so of footage of this window.
While he was setting up the camera, a random guy walked by — in front of the sign — gawking at the proceedings. I watched the guy walk most of the way down the block, stare at the news station's logo splashed out in 4-foot letters on the side of the van, and then he casually turned and walked back up the block.
The guy continued walking up and down the street, casually, not looking at the camera, but deliberately parading back and forth in front of it like a duck in a shooting gallery.
I did my best to ruin the shot by laughing uncontrollably at the random guy's efforts to get on the news.
"I have found, over the years," said the TV news reporter, "that you can interview just about anyone, but as soon as you get the camera out, people either run from it," and he pointed at me, "or they run toward it," and he nodded his head at the shooting gallery duck. "There's never a middle ground."
My saving grace as a reporter is that I don't have a camera, especially a video camera. Still, once I've declared that I am the big, fat elephant on the wall, people obviously start mentally rehearsing all the lessons about politeness and proper speaking habits their teachers and parents tried to beat into them in younger years.
I haven't had much luck yet getting people to forget that I'm the elephant, but they've been good about relaxing enough to walk around the big gray lump of me without too many signs of distress that I'm taking up oxygen in the room. Some people will toss me a few peanuts, ask if I'll be performing at any circuses nearby.
It's a start.
(If only I had the elephant's memory at http://viewnorth40.wordpress.com.)