“Do you have the fire marshal’s report?”

My friend Pat Stith, who is the best investigative reporter I’ve known, writes a good blog. He tells stories about his life in and out of journalism. You should subscribe to it on your reader.

I had the privilege of working with Stith on a few stories, and it was a lesson in how to report a tough story. He’s smart and fearless. A fellow reporter at the N&O said this about him: “When he calls you and asks you for an interview, you’d better be scared because it means you’re guilty and he’s got you.”

But this isn’t about Stith.

Yesterday, he wrote about a conversation he had with Frank Daniels, who was theĀ  publisher of the News & Observer.

My experience with Frank was different than Pat’s. One day years ago, there was a fire in the pressroom of the News & Observer. I was assigned to find out the cause from the fire marshal. Because the N&O wanted to be transparent about its own time in the news spotlight, I was told to check every day until we got it. The fire marshal, for whatever reason, wouldn’t ever respond to my calls so I took to calling Frank to ask if he’d received the investigative report.

The first time I called him, he answered his phone. (He was accessible. If he was in, he always answered his phone. The only time I ever remember getting his assistant was when he wasn’t there.) I identified myself and asked him if he had the report. He said no. I thanked him and hung up.

I called him the next day. “No.” Then the next day. “No.” On the fourth day, he chuckled and said, “No. Are you going to call me every day?” I told him that I would until I got the report. He laughed and said OK.

For at least a month, I did. It got to the point where he’d answer, I’d say, “Hi, Frank.” And he’d say, “Nope.”

I believed him, too. He was independent and irreverent and let the newsroom be the newsroom. But because I had learned at the N&O that “if your mama says she love you, check it out,” I went to the fire marshal’s office and it still hadn’t been filed. I eventually quit calling because I got involved in other stories, and I forgot about it. My editors did, too, because they never mentioned it.

Then one day, Frank called me and said, “I’ve got it.”

I don’t remember what it said or if I ever wrote about it, though, knowing the N&O, I’m sure I did.

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