The strangest thing about my career, or what remains of it, is the fact that no-one ever seems to be entirely sure about the limits of what I can and can’t do in any particular situation.
For editors or those in charge of commissioning stories, there’s a feeling that I have complete control over sources or the events surrounding any particular story — or, at least, that I can pivot in almost any circumstance to get the desired outcome. The number of times I’ve been asked (or perhaps more appropriately, instructed) to get specific answers or statements that no-one wants to offer up is significant, as is the number of times I’ve had to patiently try anyway, before apologizing for my failure.
Worse, perhaps, are the times when the subject of a story believes that I have final say over the story. Just recently, I’ve had some of the more surreal experiences of my work life when people involved in stories have made demands after the fact of pieces they’ve been interviewed for or contributed to, in some way — up to and including asking for something that was printed to be altered, as if anyone had the ability to change what already existed in physical form days after it had been shipped to retailers. (It genuinely seemed a surprise that I didn’t have that power, when I explained that to them.)
At times, I make jokes about how such things are above my pay grade, to make light of the fact that, in so many of these situations, I’m actually pretty powerless. The reality of the situation is, especially as a freelancer, I’m a middle man, a service provider. I make connections and put things together in multiple ways, and a story comes out of that.
In reality, I have limited power in my situation, despite being central to the finished story. It’s an odd position to be in, which might explain why no-one seems to get how it works.