“HEY, MALONE. HOW can we expect to get a Pulitzer in this backwater?”
I wanted to roll my eyes. I had been nominated for the top prize in investigative journalism twice, but never won. My topic for this seminar to a sister newspaper’s staff was finding big stories and working sources. However, Biff and Bob, I think that’s what they said their names were, heckled me just for kicks.
This routine was familiar. I’d been known to do it when I was required to attend a seminar or two in the past. The rest of the afternoon was going to be painful, if I didn’t stomp on these two and fast. I didn’t do painful. I was an award-winning journalist who covered the crime beat. I was immensely qualified to lead this seminar after receiving national headlines on a story in each of the last two years.
When a Mitch Malone exclusive ran, the advertisers ponyed up for weeks afterwards and circulation rose making my editor and publisher happy in a business that struggled to survive. I was asked to talk to other newspapers in the chain to encourage them to get bigger stories and edge the bottom line into black. I didn’t like it, but didn’t have a choice.
“When was the last time one of your stories made it on the wire?” I challenged the fresh-faced kid a couple of years out of college.
Bob looked at his shoes. Chair legs scraped against the floor as everyone in the room straightened their backs in the small conference room. I looked down the fake wood-grain table that had room for a couple more bodies. Now I had their attention and the sun pulled from behind a cloud
and brightened the pale yellow walls.
“What makes a good story great and launches it into the wire services is the attention to detail. Not only creating a picture with your words, but using quotes to convey emotion. You have to work with your police departments, sources and your witness to have conversations with you in
order to get at the depth of emotion in a story.” I thought I had them now.
“Yeah, but what terrorists come to Flatville to train for a mission? You can see for miles.” This from another irritant.
“Good and even great stories aren’t found under rocks.” Although I wanted to throw a few stones at the voice, I think was Biff. “Good stories are hard work and require investigation and talking to a lot of people, not just a single source.”
I was back in control again. “I could have just gone with the double homicide story and moved on to the next burglary, but I wouldn’t have been nominated for a Pulitzer for that. You have to develop a sense when something doesn’t seem right. You need to push a little harder.”
“You need to become wanted for murder and go into hiding.” This jeer was from Biff who obviously had done his research on me and my first big story about terrorists operating out of Grand River—the major metropolitan area where I lived and worked.
“I admit I had some incentive to figure out what was going on but the terrorist angle was the reason behind the killings. What made it a great story was the human-interest angle. The mother stood up to the terrorists at great personal loss while her husband was fighting for our country. She
was getting intimidated and didn’t back down and faced some pretty serious consequences. Making her the hero is what made it a great story. My involvement was never part of the story.” I didn’t have to tell them about Joey who was never mentioned but was the key to the whole episode.
“But nothing ever happens in Flatville.” Bob was back in the tag team effort, a nasal whine in his voice.
“Nothing ever happens because you are not looking for it. You assume it doesn’t exist. That is your first mistake.” Anger tinged my words but I had had enough from these reporter wannabes. I would fire the lot of them if I were in charge.
“You think you’re so good, can you find a story that makes it in the wire while you’re in Flatville? You can’t do it. I’ll bet you can’t.” Biff nearly yelled the words, his face turning a motley-red color, a little spittle flying out to emphasize his point.
“You’re challenging me?” I couldn’t believe this had gotten so out of hand.
“Afraid you can’t do it without all the big city crime to help?” Bob was not as angry but was backing up his coworker pushing me into a corner I didn’t want to be in.
I looked around the conference table and eight pairs of eyes were focused and intent. If I backed down, the rest of the seminars next week would be efforts in torture to get through and not accomplish anything. I also wouldn’t be allowed out of the Grand River Journal’s newsroom again.
“You want me to get a story that will run on the wire services before I leave at the end of next week?”
“That’s what I said.” Biff pounded the table.
“Fine. That should be easy. You obviously couldn’t find a story if it bit you in the ass.” With that parting shot I looked at the clock. My hour opening session on Friday afternoon was over. I turned on my heel and walked out.
What had I just done? I bet my whole career and credibility on getting a story. Not only that, but I only had a week to do it in a town I didn’t know anymore. It took weeks and months to cultivate sources with the boys in blue.
I needed sustenance. Damn, I didn’t even know where I could get a good cup of coffee and a passable doughnut. I was in trouble.
Mitch Malone is required to return to his hometown of Flatville to conduct seminars for the local newspaper's staff regarding finding big stories and working sources. Mitch really doesn’t want go since his hometown holds too many not so good memories. He quickly finds resentment from the local reporters and upon goading, accepts a challenge to find a big story in this small town. When an old high school classmate is murdered, Mitch becomes a murder suspect. Setting out to clear himself, he begins to learn that his hometown holds some very large secrets. Now he must put aside old feelings if he is to find the truth, and along the way, a life-changing challenge he'll never forget.
A Case of Hometown Blues is a good story with several twists and turns along the way. It clearly brings out the vulnerability of the protagonist as he searches for the truth. The remaining characters were well done and the plot was very good as well. One caution, when converting this for e-book, formatting gets a little garbled particularly as the quotation marks disappear making reading on a device a little distracting. Over all, a very well done tale that readers of mysteries will enjoy.
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