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Marg-Ins - May I Ask You A Question?

POSTED July 6, 2010 6:38 p.m.
If you have been a regular reader of the paper for any length of time, you are probably familiar with our feature that has been called a number of things, from ‘Street Beat’ to ‘Question of the Week’ to our latest moniker ‘People Poll.’ It typically occupies a space here on the ‘Perspective’ page but that, too, has changed over the years, from the bottom of the page a decade ago to the more recent right side of the page.

With this week’s issue, we suspend the ‘People Poll’ column as a regular feature. It will appear occasionally, most likely within the news pages of the paper, when there is a timely question or something going on in the world that we want to get feedback on from residents.

Every reporter that has ever worked here has had the chance to grumble when it was their turn for the ‘question of the week.’ In recent months, we changed direction and developed a list of responders, sending out the question via e-mail rather than having a reporter head out each week to query random people on the street and get their photo to go along with it. At first, it seemed to work, as we sent out mass emails to our volunteer responders and always had more than enough answers to pick and choose from and routinely rotate people from week to week.

As the weeks went on, however, we would have fewer people respond, whether they just didn’t want to answer a particular question or weren’t checking their emails on a regular basis. What started out with a contact list of some two dozen people to share the space dwindled to about four or five that we could count on to answer each week.

We also sometimes struggled, in our staff meetings, to come up with a question to ask. What we found over the course of having the queue of people to go to was that many would shy away from the more hard-hitting political or topical questions. Most would answer what we consider the ‘fluff’ questions about ‘how do you beat the heat’ or ‘what’s your favorite comfort food’ but we often had to scramble with the meatier topics.

So, after much discussion — and a very quick vote — we have decided to forego the People Poll at the current time.

When I first started at the paper, all the reporters were on a rotating schedule for Street Beat and a community photo. One reporter would be assigned to get the question answered and get some sort of community-oriented picture in Riverbank one week, while another reporter handled the duty in Oakdale. Escalon at that time had its own street beat duo, the husband and wife team of Pete and Sheila Arellano. Pete would get the ‘mug shot’ of the person answering as Sheila jotted down their answer.

But it was never a staff favorite, especially when having to brave the elements and hit the street. People would talk, even nicely, until you told them you had to take their picture. Then they wanted nothing to do with you.

Some would answer whatever question — usually quite eloquently — and then say they really didn’t want to be quoted.

We tried to hit a variety of spots: the library, the grocery store, the post office, occasionally a gas station. It’s pretty hard not to look conspicuous, though, as you just hang around with a camera and a notebook waiting. I think people would find a back door out of every place we stood in front of, as it would often take a very long time to get the needed responses.

Of course, we used to have to take their picture, two or three times, to make sure they weren’t blinking or didn’t have a funny smile and then would have to develop the film and print their photos. At least the arrival of digital cameras made the job a little easier and you only had to take one photo, which could quickly be reviewed and retaken if necessary.

Our decision may not sit well with some people; it’s often hard to gauge exactly what readers want and I’m sure there will be those who miss the weekly question. But continuing to do something just because ‘it’s always been done that way’ isn’t necessarily a good thing, either.

We can grow and change and adapt; try some new things and see how they go over. We welcome your thoughts and suggestions. After all, you are who we are writing for … so let us know what you think.

 

Marg Jackson is editor of The Escalon Times and The Oakdale Leader and assistant editor for The Riverbank News. She may be reached at mjackson@escalontimes.com or by calling 847-3021.

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