The idiot’s idiom

January 15, 2009

One of the banes of being a newspaper reporter (and there can be multitudes at that) is the tendency for people to jump the gun when in your presence.

For those unfamiliar with the catchphrase, “jumping the gun,” by nature, is that knee jerk, over-reactive type of response most employed by people who speak before they think, or know all the facts at hand, thereby creating a whole lot of unnecessary drama that can summarily turn an interview, or any other scenario, for that matter, quickly sour.

Case in point: today, a colleague and I, in our dutiful attempt at getting out in the field, paid an informal visit to a local merchant, to ask some general inquiries and do some research for an upcoming assignment I’m preparing.  We were “off the clock,” so to speak, visiting strictly as civilians to get some background info.

The proprietor of this fine establishment was cordial and courteous — that is, until discovering we worked for the local weekly, upon which we were read the riot act, and subsequently left by our own accord. Had we waited any longer I’m sure he would have asked us to, or ejected us outright.

Now, before you, dear reader, jump the gun, here’s the kicker: we never identified ourselves as members of the media. He took care of that for us, his suspicions raised simply by our curious nature, which could have come from any customer who walked through the door. Politeness quickly turned hostile on the man’s part, his answers mutated into accusations, and with an intensely paranoid air that suggested we were undercover, out to get or expose him.

Sure, we were visibly equipped with camera and notepad, but why would anyone working undercover be so blatant? That’s what happens when rationale (if it exists) is tainted by assumption, aka jumping the gun.

Perhaps there’s a kind of superiority when working in the news world. We’re trained to deal with the facts; to verify them through two sources, three, or more when the info started as mere rumor; and most of all, to properly represent ourselves. If I wanted to formally interview this guy, I would have identified myself off the bat. And I think sometimes maybe we expect others not employed in our field to think and behave in the same spirit of factuality that we do.

Still, that gives nobody the excuse to assume. Because, of course, when that happens, you know what happens to U and ME.

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