Monday, July 27, 2009

Yo ho, yo ho, a journalist's life for me.

When was the last time you were called "a little fucking prick" to your face?

It sure doesn't happen often, but it happened to me tonight. So I thought, a story's in order.

It starts with an article I wrote last Wednesday. I interviewed a bunch of people to try and learn as much as I could about clams and their buyers, sellers and diggers in Essex, Mass., and I came out with about 900 words about the bivalve shellfish.

The first guy I interviewed, Kelly Corrao, was a little fidgety and awkward. He was tentative but aggressive, and he knew a ridiculous amount about clams. I talked to him for a while and got some really great information for the story. He said that Periwinkles and Tom Shea's, two Essex restaurants right on Main Street, had taken steamers off the menu because clam prices were so high. He told me he didn't want me to print the particular names of the restaurants because it would be bad for his business. So I told him that I wouldn't attribute the information to him.

Five days later, he saw me at an event I was covering and stopped me. He said I was a "little fucking prick" and that he'd never talk to me again. He wasn't quiet about it.

I maintain that I did nothing wrong, but I'll let you be the judge.

Here's what I wrote in my story last week:

Kelly Corrao, owner of Essex Shellfish on Centennial Grove Road, a seafood wholesaler that usually buys directly from local clammers, said he has been ordering most of his clams from Maine despite the widespread red tide closures along much of that state's coastline.

Corrao has been amazed at the high prices; he said that a week and a half ago he was selling bushels at $170 each. Anything over $100 per bushel, about 60 pounds, is good, he said, but he hasn't seen the price climb that high in a long time.

"Prices were out sight," he said. "They were so high it was bad for business. People were taking it off the menu, and this is a clam town."

Make no mistake, I quoted him accurately. But later in the story, I talked to a chef at Tom Shea's who had taken clams off the menu and then to another chef, this one from Periwinkles, who actually said he never took clams off the menu and wouldn't ever consider doing so. I believe those sources and that particular piece of information is what ruffled Kelly's feathers.

Corrao believes I promised him I wouldn't print the names of the restaurants. I didn't. He believes what I did was wrong and disloyal to his word. I disagree.

See, what Kelly doesn't understand is that even as an intern, I have a job to do. I'm responsible for researching, interviewing and writing every story to the best of my ability. Sometimes I leave the "to the best of my ability" part a little unfulfilled, but not with this clam story. I didn't want to write it when the idea was pitched, but I enjoyed it by the end.

Research means finding information and investigating it. So when I found out that clam prices were high, I had to ask why. I also had to ask what that meant for business. Corrao said "some restaurants" had taken clams off the menu. He could have stopped there. I would have found out anyway. Periwinkles and Tom Shea's are on Main Street and I know both the owners by name now that I've worked in Essex for nine weeks. I wouldn't have turned a blind eye. Maybe I wouldn't have talked to them first, but all Corrao really did was speed up my search.

I told him I wouldn't attribute that information to him, and I didn't. I left the subject broad, from his perspective. But that didn't mean I wouldn't pursue it further.

If I told my editor that "some restaurants" had taken clams off the menu and didn't say who in the story, he would've given me a quiet-but-serious-verbal slap in the face and questioned my instincts as a reporter. So I did my job. I researched, I interviewed and I wrote.

And apparently, that's what Corrao was mad about. He gave me some information, told me he'd appreciate it if I didn't print it and then assumed I had promised him I would write a one-source story without any concrete information.

I can see my actions being considered a little weasely, at worst, but certainly not worthy of such an aggressive interaction. It scared me a little, considering he nearly followed me out to my car, but I sniffed out his bark-but-no-bite threat by the time I put the key in the ignition.

Still, it bothered me. It's not easy to simply shake it off when a middle-aged man calls out a 21-year-old the way he did. But maybe that's the kind of reaction a good investigative journalist gets from time to time. I don't really know. I just thought it would make for a good story.


Triple Deke Staff said...

This probably sums up why I dropped journalism at MSU. The lengths you have to go to in order to create a good story (for me anyway) seemed to involve a lot of awkward exchanges that were more trouble than they were worth. I always tended to interview people who would want to see the piece before I turned it in, which is an obvious no-no to journalism people. Not to mention that writing ledes, tying paragraphs together, and avoiding the word "fuck" were not my strong suits.

Don't let that dude bother you though. Anyone who feels it's okay to shout "little fucking prick" in public is probably a chronic bed-wetter and balls deep in gonorrhea.

- Tyler

boxcar said...

When I first heard about this I had assumed you used your keen journalistic instincts to take down some ponzi scheme or something epic, and the guy yelled this at you as he was being loaded into a cruiser. But I guess clams are serious business too.

As for the topic at hand, I don't think you've done anything wrong. I would agree that it's kinda weasely at worst.

I mean he didn't even have his shit straight to begin with. He's probably more upset that he looks like a total asshole for being proven wrong in 900 words or less than for any other reason.

Keep up the good work.

-Tim King

Keeley Smith said...

Of course, a hazard of the trade. Ah, sometimes the civilians just don't understand...

I say nice work on the article. You did your job splendidly.

Anonymous said...

You write very well and I enjoy reading your work. Chalk this one up to experience, even though it was a negative one, and you'll be that much better for it

Cameron Kittle said...

Thanks for all the support!