Reporter's notebook

Years ago, we wrote a story about a downtown landlord trying to oust a tenant who sold sex toys and lingerie. He worried that more respectable tenants didn’t want to be near such a business.

After the story ran, however, a surprising thing happened: The public rallied around the risqué shop. It offended some basic sense of fairness for our readers, it seems, and they came down hard on the landlord, who eventually relented and allowed it to stay (and the block has developed nicely anyway in the years since).

I wrote a column about that episode, noting that it was one of those satisfying cases where the newspaper was able to make a difference for someone – in this case, the business owner and his customers – albeit it in a small way.

Reporters often go into this business to change the world – to right wrongs, comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable, and all that. Sadly, most of us never get to participate in the really big stories – Watergate, priest sexual abuse, the Pentagon Papers. Instead, we plug along writing about more mundane topics, like local politics, business or sports.

So it’s satisfying when one of our stories makes a difference, because, as I noted in that column, “changing the world in small ways is still changing the world.”

I was reminded of that column a couple of times this week as readers have let us know about how our stories have made a difference for them.

The folks over at the Arts Association Napa Valley, for example, sent a nice note thanking us for our coverage over the years.

“Not enough people thank you for providing good coverage of local events and organizations ... Our archives are filled with Register articles from then until now which cover our organization and events. We look forward to many more appearances in the pages of the Register,” they wrote.

St. Helena Star Editor Dave Stoneberg, meanwhile, wrote to tell me that the story by Jesse Duarte about the 4-year-old German Short Haired Pointer, Callie, who was hit by a car “has moved people to action.”

“The GoFundMe account for Callie, as of this afternoon, was at $8,653, after a $500 donation from a St. Helena man, who said he loves dogs and hopes the driver is caught (he didn’t stop to render aid). The family is seeking $15,000 – the first bill was $13,200.

The story was front page in both the Star and Register,” Dave told me on Tuesday.

On an even smaller scale, a reader wrote to say that a recent book-related column by a freelancer had made her see science fiction in a new light.

“Last Thursday’s column, ‘Your September in Books’ published in the Register ... was a welcome addition to the Arts pages. Science fiction has never been made so appealing to me as in Elayna Trucker’s article. She not only wrote about upcoming novels that sound lively and relevant to the not so distant future, but she made a case for sci-fi’s connection to science and math for those who value that branch of the sub-genre and to murder mysteries for another kind of reader.”

Those kinds of reactions make this job worthwhile. Sure, we’re not saving the world, or toppling the corrupt and wicked, or avenging some epic wrong, but still, we made a difference to someone in some way.

And that is one tiny change in the world.

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You can reach Sean Scully at 256-2246 or sscully@napanews.com.



Sean has been editor of the Napa Valley Register since April of 2014. His previous credits include the Press Democrat, The Weekly Calistogan, The Washington Times and Time and People magazines.