Thursday, 7 November 2013

Confessions of an Editorial Assistant: Some Memorable Callers

It was 2006 and I, a very young 22-year-old university graduate, was responsible for answering all the calls to the newsdesk of New Zealand's largest newspaper.

The majority of the calls were news tips, complaints, people wanting a chat with the editor (politely directed to send a letter), and subscribers whose papers did arrive (politely put through to subs).

But every now and then I was on the receiving end of some rather more special calls. They shall be known as Nice Young Man, Kobe Beef Man, Microwave Lady, Microchip Guy, and Shouty Jerk.

Nice Young Man: I found out from another member of staff that Nice Young Man had Down's. He was a treat to talk to. NYM would ring every few weeks for a quick chat. Always impeccably polite, he just want to say how much the woman on breakfast tv looked lovely and maybe comment on a few stories before wishing me a good day. Why weren't more callers like him. 

Kobe Beef Man: A NZ farmer breeding wagyu cattle, he wanted to tell the country all about the benefits of this pricey meat. By the sound of his voice he was an older gentleman and by the way he spoke non-stop for 30 minutes the first time I spoke to him, seemingly without time to take a breath, suggested he wasn't calling for a discussion. He rang several times, each with the same long winded spiel. I quickly learned how to interrupt someone mid-rant.

Microwave Lady: She was quite a simple case. Several calls about how microwaves in the air were affecting her thoughts.

Microchip Guy: His calls always upset me as he clearly was a disturbed individual. He wanted to know why the Herald wasn't writing about him and the fact that director Peter Jackson and then prime minister Helen Clark had placed microchips in his fillings and were making a Truman Show-like movie about his life against his will. Most of the time he was calm, but sometimes he would get really upset.

Shouty Jerk: "Page three. Second story. Fifth paragraph. What's wrong with that sentence? You idiots have written 'a' instead of 'an'." Queue a barrage of insults, how shit the paper was, swear words and so on.
I really hated Shouty Jerk. He rang frequently, never a hello, how's your day, every call started with him shouting a page number down the phone at me. He tested my patience time after time until one day he heard an attitude in my voice (I wonder why) and demanded to speak to my boss. Thankfully my Chief wasn't going to take crap from an abusive douche like him and totally put the loser in his place. Result. 

Finally, one caller who I remember more often than the other. I don't have a nickname for him. 

He only rang once. 

From the beginning of the call he sounded horribly distressed, warning of a destruction that was coming to kill hundreds of people across the country that he was controlling. 

As he got more and more worked up I managed to get his address and phone number and instantly emailed his local mental health service - could they send someone to check on him and make sure he was okay? 

A representative from the mental health group called me back and asked for more detail. The rep kept asking the same questions over and over and I remember feeling frustrated and helpless - I'd never spoken to someone that manic before and was genuinely worried he would harm himself. I didn't want to do nothing. 

They left it at that and I never found out if they paid that poor man a visit or not.


  1. Ah NZ mental health services... they are fun to deal with. And I didn't know so many schizophrenics called newspapers. You may have also spoken to my dad, after his accident he started calling to complain about stuff. Sigh.

    1. Mostly they were nicer to talk to than the angry "normal" people with too much time on their hands. Yip, mental health services - making a difficult situation even more difficult. :-P