A … of a quote sours sweet story | VailDaily.com
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A … of a quote sours sweet story

Don Rogers

Thomas Salamunovich was mortified. The owner-chef of Larkspur and now Larksburger had long ago stripped his vocabulary of certain earthy language. But there it was, in a quote of a story about his new enterprise, the word “bitch,” in between quote marks. As if he actually said that.I’ve been on the other side of the notebook a time or two in this and my previous career. So I well know the feeling.I’m touchy enough that I typically hate what the copy editors do to my precious prose, never mind the poor schlep on the phone or across the desk trying to keep up with me speaking and understand what I really mean.Questionnaires we send out at random to sources after stories appear suggest that this is less of a problem than I fear. I’m happy to report that the writers’ scores consistently run very high for accuracy, fairness and professional, polite treatment of their sources. That’s great, but here we were last week, on the phone discussing an otherwise nice piece about Larksburger on page one of the Arts & Entertainment section. The author, Ted Alvarez, writes well, gets good reviews, and had jotted down what he heard the chef say over the phone.Only Salamunovich doesn’t use the word – ever – inoffensive as it might be to you and me. It would have been easier if Alvarez had put in his notes one of those earthy four-letter words that are commonly uttered yet never find their way into print at a family newspaper. This sounds like a job for a tape recorder, doesn’t it? Some writers use them routinely. Others, most others, save them for only the most sensitive or complicated interviews. We might need to rethink that. I almost never have used a recorder. I learned early that my notes matched the recording closely. I use only the most telling of direct quotes, a tiny fraction of any interview, and fishing for them in a recording can be enormously time-consuming.Another technique is to read back quotes to sources. That won’t work, or even be ethical, in some cases. But most of the time it gives people the best shot at explaining something, and readers the best chance of understanding what the interviewee is trying to get across, especially if it’s a complex issue. I did this often as a reporter. We don’t let sources read full stories ahead of time. I’ve been sorry the few times I’ve done that. This is journalism, after all. We want to get the facts right, not turn the sources, with their various interests, into editors. News stories are not really PR pieces, all cracks otherwise aside.And there always lurks that damnable enemy, time, and its close companion, deadline. One of my mentors and friends retired from The New York Times after five decades as a journalist only to be bored silly within weeks and back in the biz at a paper I later joined.”Are you good?” he’d ask when we interviewed prospects together. Then he’d lean forward. “Now, are you fast? It’s not enough in journalism to be good. You must also be fast. You must be good and fast. Are you good, and fast?”He is, to this day, in his 70s now. But the first draft of history, our daily stories, are fraught with peril. Which, of course, makes the job more interesting.Our writer wrote down the word “bitch” in his notes, believing that’s exactly what he heard. The word fit the context, after all, and few of us would list it in the same category as, say, the F-bomb. But I also know that Salamunovich is beyond certain that he never uttered a word he never uses. Hard to argue with that. So in this case, if he’s mortified, then I’m mortified, too.The story, after all, was about folks doing something right – highly successful restaurateurs opening their next bid for success.I don’t mind a child molester feeling exposed by an article. But a good-news story, well, the people it’s about should feel good, too.One small P.S.: Salamunovich mentioned he’d like to express the thanks and gratitude he feels toward the community that has made Larkspur a hit. I’d say the food and and staff have a little something to do with that. But it’s true: There’s no successful restaurant – or newspaper – without the patrons.Salmanovich has to get his ingredients just right, and we have to get our quotes right. Ultimately trust is what brings our diners and readers back. Managing Editor Don Rogers can be reached at 748-2920, or editor@vaildaily.com. Read his blog at http://www.vaildaily.com/section/BLOG


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