“You wanted to see me, Mr. P?” Madison said, as she found the newspaper faculty advisor in his office behind the old printing press.
“Holy shit,” he said.
Madison smiled and sat in the chair across from his desk. “Good, right?”
“Okay, first, and I cannot emphasize this enough, holy shit. Second, this story is really well written. I’m not sure who here is responsible for turning you into a real writer—I’m quite sure it isn’t me—but they did a wonderful job.”
Madison blushed, but did not respond.
“Let’s go through each part of this,” he said.
“Okay,” Madison replied.
“So we start with the genesis of the recycling program. It’s pretty obvious that Principal Anderson was behind the stuff at the school board meetings this summer, but you can’t prove that. So you just put the puzzle pieces out there and let the reader figure that out on their own.”
“That was my hope,” she said. “Do you think they’ll get it?”
“The students? Nah. Probably not. But I know who will get it, and that’s the superintendent. This is going to be trouble for Mr. Anderson. You don’t have any axe to grind with him, do you? This isn’t some kind of a vendetta?”
“No, sir. I like him a lot, and I think he does a good job. But the facts are what they are,” she explained.
“Seems that way. Okay, so then we get into the labor union stuff. You are sure this interview was on the record? All the things Mr. Jones told you?”
“Yes, sir. He cleared it with his union rep. I guess they are hoping that me shining a light on this might help their position in the negotiations. He wants more people on his crew.”
“Alright.” Mr. Portnoy ran his finger down the page. Madison assumed he had printed the article to review it. “Yeah, alright, and then there’s the big reveal here. My God, you got pictures, Mads.”
Madison smiled. “They came out okay, I think.”
“More than okay. These are great. The blue dumpster against the orange sky. So after all that fighting with the union and the expense of the new dumpster and bins and the school board nonsense… after all that, it’s all ending up in the trash anyway? And you confirmed this?”
“Yes, sir. I called the hauling company and talked to the boss there. They work for the city, and they said the city gave up on its recycling program. It was too expensive. But it’s easier to just let people put two bins out so they feel good about it.”
“The whole city. Not just this school,” he said.
“Yes. I guess it’s not a secret. At least the hauler said it wasn’t. It’s just not really widely known. I found an article in the city paper about it from a couple years ago.”
Mr. P. shook his head and stared at the story in front of him. “Holy shit. You know this was supposed to be a puff piece, right? Just a little rah-rah statement from the principal. Rephrase the stuff on that flyer I gave you. This wasn’t an investigative job.”
“Sure, Mr. P.,” she said with a wink and a smile.
“No! Really! I’m not kidding around here. I literally had no idea about any of this,” he insisted.
“Honestly?” she asked.
“Honestly. You did this all yourself,” he said.
“Well I guess I’m glad I thought you were testing me, or I probably wouldn’t have looked so hard,” she laughed.
“I gave you one nothing story to do, and you came back with three giant scoops.”
“So what’s next?” she asked.
“I’m going to need to change a word here and there. Add an ‘allegedly’ and a ‘seems to’ just to make sure there’s no legal issues. You okay with that?” he asked.
“Oh, of course.”
“And even though you already interviewed Principal Anderson, I think I need to show this to him before it goes to print.”
Madison winced. “Can he kill the story?”
“I guess he can try. But no. Especially these days. Even if he tried to stop the Bee from running it, you could just take a story like this to the city paper or run it independently on social media. There’s no way to stop the news from getting out. Have you thought about a headline?”
“The dark secrets inside those blue receptacles,” she suggested.
Mr. P. laughed. “You are a great writer, Mads, but headlines are not your strong suit. I’m sure Billy will come up with something good.”
“Billy writes great headlines,” Madison agreed.
“Okay, I’ll tune this up and run it by Mr. Anderson. I’ll be in touch,” he said.
Madison stood to leave. As she reached the door, he called to her. “Oh, and Madison?”
“Yes, Mr. P.?”
“You mentioned that,” she replied with a big smile.