Reader Response for Babette Josephs story

THERE IS SOMETHING THRILLING ABOUT READER INTERACTION. In my short experience with professional journalism, readers rarely contact reporters about their story without a strong reaction – either an article is of great importance or is trash.

Getting a big story above the fold on the cover of Inquirer local section, like my story on state Rep. Babette Josephs was on Wednesday, will bring in some phone calls. It’s refreshing to see old forms of reader interaction still can work, and unsurprising the calls ranged from complimentary to insulting.

On the good end, one woman – whom I can only picture with hair curlers and face cream on a stoop of a Passyunk Square block that hadn’t yet been flipped – referred to my article as “excellent.” She talked to Babette until she “was blue in the face.” The sentiment this woman, and a couple other calls gave was that over the representative’s incumbency since 1984 – Josephs is the General Assembly’s longest-serving female member – she had lost her mission. “She’s a disaster now,” the woman told me.

The criticisms came from both ends – a few who suggested I was in the bag for Republicans and at least one who said I handled Josephs too kindly.

One “longtime Center City resident” left me a voice mail message saying the following:

Hello Christopher… I read your story today on Babette Josephs and have to say I thought the title is a little confusing. Having read the story, you should have called it ‘How I do the spin for the Republican Party.’

He made the argument that the legislation cited in my article is “called reform but nothing more than spin from Republicans,” those who, for years, were “blocking any kind of progressive legislation” for a host of underserved groups represented in Josephs’ district. I made the mistake of “putting their whining in print.”

I find it amazing that this is all you have time to do, Christopher. Maybe you should join the Republican Party and run for governor.

The most recent call I got was from a reader with an astute observation. Read the following passage from the story on Babette Josephs.

In October, the Republican-controlled state Senate passed a bill, 48-0, that would ban all government bonuses for state workers. It has sat in Josephs’ committee untouched ever since.

Sen. John Eichelberger (R., Blair), the sponsor, accused Josephs of playing games with his bill and others.

Josephs “can derail a bill or silence a bill that no one ever hears about,” Eichelberger said. “It’s just dead. These games are very harmful for the process.”

Josephs said Eichelberger’s bill did not go far enough because it allowed some bonuses to continue. Josephs is seeking cosponsors for a bonus-ban bill that deals with issues not addressed by Eichelberger’s bill, said Rodney Oliver, executive director of the State Government Committee. [Emphasis added to story]

That reader was frustrated with the inconsistency, and he was absolutely accurate. Going through the versions I sent to editors, I found that while, yes, in my originally filed version, I made it clear that Eichelberger’s bill left an exception for Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency merit based-paid employees. It’s a mouthful and complicated – more so than I will even explain here – so it got lopped. By two edits later, even the vague mention that the bill had an exception was lost in that first graf above. I did see that version but neglected to lobby for a change. This is a perfect example of where online-news with liberal linking can be better for the reader, but that’s for another post.

I also got some attention online. Conservative Central Pennsylvanian columnist Tony Phyrillas made mention of my article on his blog, and Keystone Politics posted damn near half the article without name or publication mention beyond a generic source link . I even got a mention on PhillyBlog by Josephs November election opponent Republican Wally Zimolong.

The reader who thought I was a little too easy on Josephs struck me as a former Philadelphian, now retired in the suburbs. He left me a message before 8 A.M. and, even at that hour, used the phrase “pile of crap” no less than seven times in 49 seconds.

She is without doubt the biggest pile of crap in Harrisburg. It is your duty as a reporter to report this pile of crap to the public. You have to get rid of these career politicos who are piles of crap… Sorry for the frustration.

Unsurprisingly, I didn’t hear anything from the Josephs camp. Being a seasoned politician, I assume there was nothing of particular note in the story, but something I like least about reporting is so rarely knowing what one’s subject thinks about a piece. Does Josephs herself think I was fair, was something untrue or right on?

There is something beautiful about knowing someone is reading something you’ve written and has a thought on the matter. Pile of crap or not.

Photo courtesy of Swapatorium.