Reader response for Inquirer story on Harrisburg reformers

Last week, I shared some reader response I received after a recent story on state Rep. Babette Josephs ran on the cover of the Inquirer’s Local Section.

So it comes as no surprise that getting a story on the cover the newspaper – one about the Harrisburg reform movement yesterday – got some response, too.

A man who – jokes aside – I think was intoxicated and was either complimenting or insulting my coverage of “citizens” – I sincerely couldn’t tell. No name, no number, but he called back and left a second message in which he said the following:

Oh, I forgot. My primary concern is helping and reliquifying [sic] the American middle class, and until, well, that is the basis of everthing, until that happens, this country isn’t going anywheres [sic] and you can quote me on it.”

I don’t know who he is or how to contact him or why I would want to quote him – but I sure will.

I got caught up in an e-mail exchange with a man concerned about capital versus capitol versus Capitol. In my story, as per Inqy style, I used the last, but he thought it should have been the first or at least the second. The second, as he suggested, was correct, of course, by the word’s dictionary definition, but not the paper’s style.

Because I am serving an internship that has me with several newspapers this summer, I don’t have an Inquirer e-mail address, so my tagline for the story only includes a phone number. The few e-mails I have gotten, then, mean they have sought me out online – which I think is great, shows this Web site is serving a purpose and working after all. Still, Web searches and E-mail exchanges are only two elements of the Internet age. The story also gets the Inqy’s famed online comments! I wrote about reader response for my Babette Josephs story, but didn’t include the story’s comments on because it only had one.

The gadflies story had more – though only six. They mostly rightly encourage citizen activism, but one is fun:

Flyswatters are made to be used against annoying gadflies. Simply use them to swat them down!

Still, phone calls are still popular among newspaper readership – typically older folks – some of whom also took issue the story’s title.

A man and I shared a few minutes of phone conversation regarding the headline. He took issue with calling the activists “gadflies,” which he (and Gene Stilp, one of the reformer’s in my story) thought was pejorative. I had to explain reporters almost never write their own headlines but was still happy to engage in a conversation on the matter.

I would say that the average Inquirer reader – and I don’t think I am the average reader I think I am fairly highly educated – wouldn’t read the story because they [sic] would think, ‘Oh just some annoying bug in the Capitol.”

He’s right that the word, by definition, has a negative connotation, but I think a copy editor used the word for its brevity and interest. He did say that he went on to read the story, which vindicated the headline, but he wanted his concerns lobbied to my editors.

One man followed up – calling me at 12:30 P.M. on Tuesday, less than three hours after he left me a message. He wanted the mailing addresses of the activists in my story so that he might join their cause.

I don’t know how you feel and what your role is as a newspaper reporter, but to me, the more you read about the politicians, the more you get turned off. I want to write to these gentlemen to see what I can do to help locally.”

The sweet-sounding old man who said he “lived in the Philadelphia area” seems a perfect example, some legislators might say, of a reader who never gets to see the positive because media always focus on the negative. Still, the man identified his representative as “pretty clean” and was simply concerned “about the rest of the state.”

I got a call from a parole agent in Philadelphia who had been working on what he called “corruption” in the city’s parole board. He wanted advice on pursuing his cause, so did a woman with vague concerns over malfeasance by her state delegation. They wanted contact information, too. Granted these voices are those unfamiliar enough with the power of the Internet to know they could find most of the men featured in my story online, but it was a good part of journalism – one that has always been a part of the craft but needs to be even more important to reporters: sharing stories more intimately with readers. I can connect people – there is power in that.

I am also happy to say I got a complimentary e-mail on the story from an editor of another publication. “You’ve been producing some good stuff this summer, Chris,” the editor – whom I have come to respect for a number of reasons. That means a lot coming from a seasoned member of the industry.

Perhaps less professionally meaningful though more surprising, I got a call from two former editors of my college newspaper – Brandon Lausch and Christopher A. Vito – who happened to be visiting the Newseum in Washington, D.C. and flipping through the day’s front pages when they found my byline by chance. I got an unexpected call from two old friends, supporters and professional models with kind words.

Photo courtesy of Swapatorium.

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