Seven Days’ dilemma

Once upon a time, I was a big fan of Seven Days — it’s a fairly edgy, often entertaining pub that, when I first started reading it, was a refreshing change from Vermont’s typically staid and traditional news publications.

Over the years, it has grown in popularity and coverage. It became more confident in its ability to cover real news and moved beyond the soft, feature-y stories that tend to fill free weeklies. And to a large extent, they’ve done a good job. But lately, I’ve been loving my patience.

Yesterday, I was mildly peeved by this snippy post about the upcoming Phish benefit. While I agree with Lauren Ober’s basic argument that anyone who really wants to help flood victims could do more than simply shell out $75 for a good time and a nice buzz, the story never rose above taking pot shots at hippies and characterizing all Phish fans as lazy, privileged stoners (from New Jersey, no less!) more interested in a partying than helping their “phellow” man. My friends and I from Restoring Rutland — who will be at tomorrow night’s show — respectfully disagree. (And for the record, the excessive use of “ph” prefixes was tired after the first graf.)

Today’s inevitable mea culpa was necessary, and it was sincere. I take Ober at her word that the piece was intended to be a playful means of prodding some of these “tourists” into real action (though, we could had done without the additional “ph’s”). Ultimately, it was just a poorly thought out post.

But it’s not an isolated incident. A recent piece about the struggles at the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus is another example of a good story buried beneath snarky writing that seems to tell the story it wants rather than the one it is given.

At its core, the story is a decent analysis of the very real issues facing print newspapers and the trend toward the paywall. However, Seven Days chose to use the issue as an excuse to take a few petty swipes at the TA. (Full disclosure: I work for the Rutland Herald, the TA’s sister pub, so maybe part of my indignation was defensive — familial pride, as it were.)

My main gripe, however, was with the timing of the story. It ran three days after Tropical Storm Irene swept through Vermont, when the reporting and editorial staff at both the TA and the Herald were crushing it with statewide coverage. The Seven Day’s piece asserts that the constriction of earlier deadlines had resulted in the TA missing the big Irene story. And while the earlier deadlines did limit what appeared in the daily print editions, the TA and Herald’s websites and e-editions (which were available free of charge for several days post-Irene) were constantly being updated. On the social media front, both pubs’ Facebook and Twitter feeds as well as a live blog were continuously pushing content and providing real-time updates. In addition, the Vermont Today blog was a clearinghouse of vital information.

To say that a lack of an in house printing press has limited converge is wholly inaccurate. Indeed, the TA and Herald were the main source of information statewide in the days following Irene. But Seven Days never mentioned this.

So therein lies the dilemma. It seems that Seven Days has a choice. If it wants to be taken seriously as a legitimate source of news in Vermont, it needs to grow up a bit, in my opinion. That doesn’t mean it still can’t have fun; they just need to know when to dial it down and do the not always fun and edgy job of reporting real news.

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