The scene is all too familiar:

It's three minutes to deadline, I've still got to edit two B1 stories, and the phone rings. The least-busy reporter pushes aside what he's doing and answers it:"Can you please tell me if the press release about our stop-smoking clinic has run in your paper?"

Well, the reporter doesn't know, so he does the only logical thing:

"Rick, take a call on line 3," the reporter hollers in my direction.

I - or another city desk editor - have a slightly better chance of knowing the whereabouts of the press release. But the odds still aren't in the caller's favor. And because of the circumstances, the reporter or editor may seem less than helpful.

In case you've caught us in one of these less-than-perfect moments, please accept my apology. But please read on.

It's not that the question - or most any question for that matter - is uncalled-for. They are important.

And it's not that we don't want to help. We do.

It's just that we got caught at a difficult time and the request is a little like finding the proverbial needle in they haystack.

But that's not so unusual. You always get your unwanted phone calls when you're busy, right?

Journalists, as a rule however, don't score well on Miss Manner's Telephone Etiquette Test. And when a call comes while we're preoccupied, we don't always handle it like we should.

But we're trying to get better. So when you make your next phone call, be patient with us.

In deciding whether to accept my plea for patience, maybe you'll find the following information helpful.

As city editor, I tend to believe that readers want two main things from the local section of the Deseret News:

- a complete wrapup of local news, and

- timely and interesting information.

Quite frankly, I think we're fairly successful in that effort. But before we can give the news or information, we have to get it.

Our reporters, of course, generate most of the news stories - and that's really the core of our report.

But most of that which can be classified as "information" is just given to us - usually in the form of a press release. We pass it along as a public service. And it's a service we want to provide.

Keeping track of all that information isn't exactly easy, however. In addition to scores of telephone calls, literally hundreds of press releases hit our office daily. (By the way, we almost invariably insist on a written release, rather than a phone call.)

The press releases funnel through about a dozen editors in several different departments out to some 40 or 50 reporters.

So when we get an inquiry about the disposition of a press release (usually an announcement of a coming event), finding it could be difficult. It could be:

- still in the mail room;

- as yet unopened on an editor's desk;

- en route from one department to another;

- assigned to a reporter, but not yet rewritten;

- rewritten, turned in to city desk and waiting to run;

- with the makeup editor, waiting to find its place in the paper.

In fact, it could have been sent out for a particular day's paper, but gotten bumped at the last minute because of any of several unforeseen circumstances.

On city desk, through the technological marvels of the computer and the efforts of some dedicated people, we've have mapped a strategy that allows us to track a lot of those announcements, depending on where they are in the above list. And we've organized the announcements so that we run them in some sort of chronological order. You've likely seen our "Coming Events" columns in Sunday's B Section and periodically throughout the week.

But, despite our best efforts, the forces of the universe sometimes work against us. Sometimes we just don't know where a mailed-in press release is. And, worse yet, some of the announcements don't make it into print. The amount of news space we deal with fluctuates a great deal from day to day, and the number of news and information stories we need to run fluctuates just as much. (A helpful hint: The earlier we get a press release before a scheduled event, the better its chances are of getting into print.)

So when we get your phone call, we try to be helpful. (If you don't find us so, ask for me by name.) But we aren't always successful.

Despite all that, please remember: We want your releases and we'll do as much as we can to run them in the Deseret News. But please also remember that if we don't get them in or if we don't know where they are, it's not because we don't care. It's just that we lost a bout with the forces of the universe.