If hard-working reporter Randy Peterson and I stood side by side, you’d probably wonder if you were seeing double.
Peterson, who covers the Rochester City Council and Olmsted County Board for the Post Bulletin, comes to me about once a week telling me he was given credit for something I wrote.
Or saddled with the blame. It’s a mixed bag.
And I get the mixup. We can both be described as “big galoots.” Both of us wear glasses. We’re both reporters.
The similarities end there, but for the casual news fan, the mistake is understandable.
What I love about this case of mistaken identity — other than the fact that Peterson has to come to my desk once a week and pay me a compliment about my work — is the fact that readers seem to want to connect with us.
It started with dinner for 100
Getting some input from the folks around us is vital to how we do our job. A quick article on the What’s on Wednesdays events in St. Charles happened because Lindsay Gust, one of the main forces behind the community gatherings, ran into me at another event and asked if I’d write something.
“Sure,” I said. “Here’s my contact information.” And I handed her a business card.
Of course, I first heard about WOW during a St. Charles City Council meeting. And I first encountered Lindsay when writing about the community farm-to-table dinners she helped organize as a yearly event.
It’s all about connections for us here in the newsroom. A trail of breadcrumbs. A web of strings, pushpins and old articles like something off a conspiracy theorist’s cork board.
Not making the connection
We get a lot of story tips. Not all of them make it into the newspaper. Whether it’s the nonstop barrage of press releases from politicians — “Elected Official Smith is working hard to make this pipe dream happen! Let us know if we can provide you more information on this non-story!” — the tips that just don’t sound interesting (I won’t explain further because I’ll embarrass someone), or the conspiracy confusing tips that seem to have ulterior motives.
Case in point on the last one: We received an email about a gun range near “the arches” in Winona County. The note also had a link to a story (sort of) about how old gun ranges were essentially deposits of lead contaminating our water supplies.
First, the only “arches” I was aware of in Winona County are the golden ones over the ubiquitous fast food franchise with three locations in the city. So, I did a little digging.
Turns out, there is a railroad bridge in Winona County just west of Stockton that is called “The Arches” (I think) because it is basically a series of huge stone arches that carry the tracks over the road below. The email claimed “the trap range has been dumping lead BBs” into the nearby hillside for more than 50 years and possibly contaminating nearby Garvin Brook Creek.
OK. That sounds plausible. Lead shot pellets are hitting the hillside, dissolving over time and the lead is leaching into the water supply.
But the linked article with the email is essentially an advertisement for a new type of “Green Bullet” filled with tungsten instead of lead.
Oh, and no one has any evidence that the nearby sportsman’s club has in any way contaminated the water. It might have. It might not have. As someone who once took a class that talked nonstop about libel law, I refuse to make that claim without, you know, evidence.
You see, I like my dots connected.
Making my own connections
Last week, intrepid and hard-working summer intern Sara Dingmann showed up to make our lives easier.
On her first day, I handed over a story idea about the Klassen Popcorn Stand in Plainview. The Klassens have been operating their popcorn stand in town for 30 years.
I knew about this because there was an item about granting the family permission to park their popcorn truck in the parking lot of the town’s municipal liquor store in a city council agenda. I’ve never actually attended a Plainview City Council meeting, but I check their city council agendas every month to make sure something big isn’t brewing.
Happy to hand off a story idea, I was just proud of connecting my own set of dots to get it.
In the meantime, Randy Peterson would like it if, just once, someone came up to me and said, “Hey, Randy, great coverage of City Hall.”