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From AJR,   November 1998  issue

AJR Asks   

“What is the dumbest story you’ve ever been assigned?”

By AJR Staff

"What is the dumbest story you've ever been assigned?"

Danielle Herubin, reporter, Palm Beach Post
She remembers what she calls "The Hunt of the Gator." While working at the Marietta (Georgia) Daily Journal, Herubin was sent out to find a baby alligator that had been sighted in a nearby pond. "So I'm there in high heels, a skirt, hose" tromping around the pond. "The editors were insistent and so I spent the whole day looking." The story ended up on the front page.

Peter Eisler, reporter, USA Today
His dumbest assignment involved Puffalumps, a kind of stuffed animal. "I didn't even know what they were. An editor saw a classified ad, ripped it out and said, 'What the hell is this? Write a story about it.' It turned out to be a really funny story."

David Umansky, director of communications at the Smithsonian Institution and former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter
He was assigned to write a story for the Inquirer about a gypsy queen who was ill and undergoing surgery. Rumor had it the tribe had threatened to kill the doctor if the woman died. The doctor told Umansky her chances didn't look so good: She had cancer and the odds were 60-40 that she would not survive. "So I called the city desk and they said to me, 'OK, make it light.' "

Rob Borsellino, columnist, Des Moines Register
One of the photographers at the Kingston Daily Freeman in New York had found a picture of an elderly man and his dog. The man turned out to be a former mayor of Kingston, and Borsellino was sent out to interview him. "He was practically deaf, and he was senile. He couldn't hear me, so I am yelling at him, and he started crying!"

Bill Rose, editor of Tropic magazine, Miami Herald
His editors told him to go out and see if a non-leap year makes people feel like they are missing something. "I'm out asking people about their sense of loss," he says, and they "looked at me like I was nuts."

Don Walker, senior editor/weekends, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
An editor for most of his career, he relates the "goofiest story I've assigned." In 1985 there was a local airplane crash, and "like many newspapers, we went into full coverage mode." Walker assigned a reporter the story, "What happens to your body when you are about to crash?" So the reporter wrote a detailed, descriptive story about exactly what happens in those last moments. "When that story ran..we caught all kinds of grief." That reporter still reminds Walker about how dumb that assignment was.

Compiled by AJR Editorial Assistant Keri P. Mattox, who says this assignment has been her dumbest thus far!