Tuesday, April 27, 2010

A Peek Behind the Curtain

Exclusively for Extra B.S. readers... here's a bit of insight into the vendor stories.
First of all, it's interesting how many people are commenting on them on the Bristol Press website. My eyeballs are sore just trying to read them.
Though I always wish I had a few more comments on this blog so I'd know people were in fact reading it, I'm even more grateful that I don't get that kind of volume -- or venom.
I'm kind of staggered by it sometimes. The other day I posted why I love readers, because so many people had stepped forward to help Carolyn Norton find the Lake Compounce drawing she wanted to help her design the etching for a gravestone for her husband, Stretch Norton.
By the way, waaay back in 1993 when I first started at the Press and first met Stretch, I asked him how he wanted me to identify him in the newspaper. That, to me, seems the fairest and kindest thing to do for anyone I am quoting. There's not much in life that is so central to someone's identity as their name and I really try hard to respect that.
When I asked all those years ago, he said he wanted to be known as Stretch. Not J. Harwood "Stretch" Norton, like the Courant does with his name. And so I called him Stretch in my stories, out of respect for his wishes. It's the way he was identified for all those years in many stories that I wrote and my husband Steve Collins wrote for almost two decades in the pages of The Bristol Press.
Then, starting about a year ago when we wrote about Stretch after he died, someone editing the stories changed his name to the style used in the Courant without any explanation, comment, or notice to either of us. I say this to let you know that not all the words under our names is decided by us anymore, so if you're wondering about something that was written, ask.
On Extra B.S. and in The Bristol Blog, which is written by Steve, he's Strech Norton.
But I digress. That ramble all started when I was writing about why I love readers. On the other hand... the vendor comments are enlightening (some of them) but also disturbing in their meanness. I won't respond to the meanness, since I haven't got all day and my fingers would fall off, but I will respond to some of the rest.
Some posters griped that I was only writing about the inspection reports on the vendors and not the restaurants, too. Some thought that the health district just recently did the inspections on the vendors. Some demanded to know the inspection reports on all the restaurants in town.
The health inspections were the most recent available for the vendors. Some were done this spring and others last fall. I asked the health district for the reports and they provided them to me.
I only asked for reports on the vendors because people were questioning their cleanliness and sanitation. Until today, no one was questioning any of the restaurants in that way, only insulting the food quality, which is another issue.
Given that this has become such a hot button issue, it seemed important and fair to present the basic facts -- that the vendors have to play by the same rules as the restaurants and that they do pretty well on health inspections.
Compared to the number of restaurants in town, there are not very many vendors. I could manage to sift through those reports in time to write that story, but going through all the restaurant inspections would take much longer.
As a reporter, I have to work under the constraints of time and space. I can't put everything in the story and I can't look at inspection reports for the whole town and write about them all in a couple days, assuming the health district would provide them that fast.
In case you didn't realize it, the number of reporters covering Bristol at the Press anymore is 2.5. One person works half time in Bristol covering the police and the schools and the other half of her time covering Plymouth.
Steve and I write about everything else in Bristol -- government, politics, business (that includes ESPN and Lake Compounce), non-profits, social and human services, land use, public works, sewers, roads, bridges, health, the hospital, museums, veterans, parks, downtown development, blight, housing and the occasional quirky thing that doesn't fit a category. And plenty more that are not coming to mind right now.
The choices that are made as to what to cover and how to spend our limited time are crucial. Sometimes, we make those decisions. Other times, it is an editor who decides. They get the final say, after all.
If you ever want to know why something was covered, please ask me! If it was my idea, I will certainly tell you why I thought that story was worth not only my time, but yours.

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