Early on Friday, in our tattered office on South Elm-Eugene Street, Jordan Green informed me that it was time to make the last call.
The last call is the most important one in investigative reporting. It’s the one made to the entity being investigated, be it person, place or thing, and it’s not made until the reporter’s got all the aggravating evidence nailed down and squared away. And it’s rarely the last call, because new information always emerges. Occasionally we get credible explanations that need to be checked out. Sometimes they even do.
But it’s always the most exciting call to watch. So, I decided to stick around for a while, because watching Jordan work the phones is a lesson in journalism all in itself: his immaculate preparation, his soft and calm voice, his impenetrable logic, his insistent pushback.
I’ve been admiring his technique for almost 15 years. I even remember the first time I saw him do it in 2005, when nobody in the Triad knew who he was, and though I can’t quite remember who was on the receiving end I do remember thinking, In a few years, people are going to start panicking when they hear that Jordan Green is on the phone.
By Friday, Green had been grinding on the story for almost two weeks. And then the worm turned.
On Thursday, we knew, one of the subjects of the story shut off the power at Georgetown Manor apartments. This alerted the News & Record to our enterprise. Their piece came out on Saturday morning.
We hated to lose the scoop, but our piece had so many moving pieces that would have been irresponsible to rush it out.
On Sunday, we ran the story past our lawyer — who agreed the task was urgent enough to work on Father’s Day. On Monday we went through the piece line by line, incorporating the lawyer’s edits, clarifying some sentences and properly anointing attribution. It sounds tedious, and it is, but it’s the gist of the job, and it’s important to get it right. We dropped it on the site Monday afternoon, hoping people would see it during their evening newsgathering sessions, anticipating a major shitstorm while simultaneously wondering if anyone would even notice. You never know what will gain traction out there.
Sometimes a 15-minute turnaround will jam up the site and cause newspapers to fly off the racks, and sometimes the things that take months come out on the page and barely make a ripple.
What happens to a story once its birthed is not up to us. We just make sure we can deliver it the best we can.