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Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Press Think guest on blogging local news

Check out this guest post on Press Think from Debbie Galant of Baristanet.

It relates to yesterday’s item I posted from Tim Porter.

There are so many interesting stories and people I meet in the course of writing for money that I’d like to share some of those stories on Creative Ink. If I was initially hesitant for any reason, I am no longer.

Here’s Debbie’s inspiration for Baristanet as written on Press Think:

I’ll give you an example. And this is a story that pre-dates Baristanet, but when it happened I thought, I wish I wrote for the local newspaper. If I wrote for the local newspaper, this is exactly the kind of story I would write. This is the story that, in a way, inspired Baristanet.

This involves the same pool where the lifeguards were all hanging around playing cards, only a year or two earlier. After a long political battle, the pool had just been built, but because of construction delays, it didn’t open until the last day of July. With the entire swimming season compressed into one month, tempers flared, especially on those afternoons—and there were a lot of them—when the pool closed for late afternoon thunderstorms.

One Friday afternoon, with not a cloud on the horizon, after I’d put in a full day of writing, I walked to the pool and was astonished to find it closed.

There had been no thunder; I’d been writing the whole afternoon on my front porch, half a mile from the pool. The parking lot at the pool was empty, but one by one cars arrived. Moms and kids spilled out, their arms overflowing with towels and pool bags. We all stared forlornly at the chain-link fence and wondered why the pool was closed and where the lifeguards had gone.

Well, somebody said, they must have closed the pool for thunder and made everyone go home. The policy was 20 minutes. So if we kept waiting, the lifeguards would come back and re-open the pool. We waited 20 minutes, 40 minutes, an hour, longer. No lifeguards, no pool manager.

People pulled out cell phones, called town hall, the mayor, members of the pool’s board of trustees. Nobody knew what was going on, and people were furious: me more than anyone. That’s the moment when I imagined writing about this for a local paper. It was exactly the kind of thing that was never covered in the local paper—it didn’t, after all, happen at a town council meeting or come from a press release—and it was exactly the kind of thing that everybody talked about.

When the manager finally did appear, hours later, he offered no excuses and no explanation. There’d been thunder. The pool was closed.

We found out the real story months later, after it was discovered that the pool manager had been embezzling money from the pool. It turns out that hot August afternoon, he’d heard some distant thunder and decided to close the pool and take his entire lifeguard staff out to the movies.

These are the stories that people want to know. They still want to know why the pool is closed on a sunny August afternoon. These are the stories that you almost never get in the weekly local newspaper, which is typically staffed by 20-something journalists straight out of school and with no ties, or real sources, in the community.

They also want to know if the hot new restaurant that just opened is any good, whether their neighbors are also furious about new leaf raking regulations, and why the 6:18 from Penn Station was being held up in Bloomfield, and not allowed to continue on into Glen Ridge.

1 comment:

Jill said...

You are going full guns today! I love every single one of these posts. Excellent reminders of why we keep at it, no matter (fill in the blank).