At some point in our career as journalists, we will all run into stories that fall through at the last minute. Sometimes it’s our fault. Sometimes it’s the fault of our sources.
Ever have an amazing interview, only to be followed by, “Well, I don’t want my name in the newspaper or anything.” And you respond with something like, “Well, I told you I was a reporter, and I grant you off-the-record privalages, you can’t just ask for it.” (Hopefully you worded it a little nicer than that).
But what do you do when you aren’t reporting hard news and this happens? What if the person you are interviewing is nice as can be? And what if he has one of the nation’s largest Spider-Man memorabilia collections in the nation? And how do you heal a heart (mine) that was broken by a grown man that collects toys?
If you don’t stop by the “Social Media Hub” on the 9th floor very often, those questions probably sound strange. Let me clarify.
In late June, I was finishing up a story about a man we’ll call, “Spider-Man Guy.” He owns one of the top-five largest Spider-Man memorabilia collections in the nation. He says its about 4,000 pieces strong and worth “a nice sports car.” It was the perfect local connection to the newest Spider-Man movie premiering in theaters. The story was done. The photos were taken.
Here was the (revised for this blog post) lede:
Remember your eighth birthday party when you tore the wrapping paper off that special toy? Remember that action figure or doll you took everywhere, playing with it until the arms fell off or you lost it in a sea of childhood memories?
It’s bliss. It’s youth. And it’s a feeling (NAME), 39, gets when he walks through the doors of a 400-square-foot room tucked in the back corner of the (LOCATION) home he shares with his wife and (X)-year-old daughter.
Sounds innocent enough, right? Why remove all the identifying parts? A light-hearted story about feeling like a kid again, what could go wrong? A lot, actually.
I got a call a couple days before the story was slated to run. It went something like this.
Me: Hey Spider-Man Guy.
SPG: Hey Kyle, I need to ask you a favor. I really appreciated you coming to see my collection, but my wife doesn’t want our names and location printed in the newspaper. Could you call me by middle name, and just use a common last name, like Smith?
Me: Uh, why Spider-Man Guy? This is a nice story about your collection, why would you want to be anonymous? I’m not going to print your exact address.
SPG: Well, my wife is worried that people will try to rob us if we give our names. It’s just so easy to find people these days …
I won’t go any further. But at the end of our conversation, it was clear his story was not going to run. If I didn’t use a real name in this story, where would I draw the line? Spider-Man Guy (mostly his wife) was afraid his collection would be taken after publicity in the newspaper. My story was replaced by AP content and large photos. And the world kept spinning.
But I’ll admit, with a sense of humor and lots of terrible puns, that it hurt not getting to publish the story. I was proud of my web-slinging narrative, and my Spidy-Senses tingled with pride when I saved the final draft. I understand that with great Spider-Man collections, comes great responsibility to make sure no one steals it. But would my story incite the likes of the Green Goblin, Dr. Octopus and Mysterio to steal some Spidy-Swag? Probably not.
Ask anyone in the “Hub” and they’ll tell you it wasn’t an easy process to get over the venom sting that comes from having the web taken from beneath your feet. But after this blog post, the 12-step process of overcoming Spider-Man Guy rejection is complete. I forgive you, Spider-Man Guy.
And hey, Spider-Man doesn’t reveal his identity in real life, so why would I reveal the closest thing Oklahoma has to the superhero? When I think about it, maybe there’s something Spider-Man Guy’s not telling me. Maybe, he’s got something “super” to hide? … Nah, he’s just paranoid.