We get all kinds of calls and visitors at the newspaper, and each of us tries to work with customers the best they can. I often try to remember the old adage “the customer is always right” when speaking with someone who, for instance, has a question or complaint. After all, it’s not only the right thing to do, but it makes for a better chance at retaining readership.
Last week offered just one example of a unique type of question and request. I was in the middle of a meeting with Julie Buntjer when Doug Wolter knocked quietly on my door and opened it slightly. He told me that someone had been sitting in the newsroom for a while and wanted to speak with me.
I checked my calendar to confirm my belief that I had no appointments, then excused myself from the conversation with Julie to see who had been waiting. The faces were completely unfamiliar, and standing in the newsroom was what I presumed to be a married couple of Hispanic descent.
Let me say right now that, one of these days, I hope to better my Spanish-speaking skills. This is somewhat sad to admit, because I did have five years of the language (granted, it was a long time ago — in grades 7-11) and certainly could have taken the opportunity over the decade-plus I’ve lived in Worthington to improve my fluency. My biggest problem is that while I can remember a few nouns, verbs and adjectives (thanks in large part to my junior high school Spanish teacher, Miss Bianchi, who perhaps not so coincidentally was caliente), I can’t for the life of me put words together to form a comprehensible sentence.
So, I worried at first when talking to my visitors, but it turned out their English was by all means acceptable. They were quickly able to establish their story: they were the owners of the Grand Avenue home that was destroyed in a Jan. 5 fire that was the subject of a Jan. 7 article. Before long, I was being asked for whay every editor dreads: a correction.
The issue, it seems, was with the following paragraph in the story: “The owner had stated that earlier he was trying to get his semi started, so he had it plugged in an outlet in the garage, and he also had an air compressor plugged in,” (Worthington Fire Department Chief Rick) von Holdt said. “So (likely) the combination of both of those gave it a power surge, or … the old wiring (caused the fire).”
As Luis Vela (the homeowner) explained to me during his visit, he “did not have his semi plugged in” to the outlet in the garage. He told me that he he had been asked by people he knows about this — did he overload the outlet? — and he didn’t want people who read the article to think he may have done something careless.
I followed up with the fire chief, who — in addition to being a fine Worthington citizen who bravely helps others by fighting fires — is also a stand-up guy. He told me that he didn’t intend to suggest that Vela had overloaded the outlet — only that he had been told he was trying to start his semi by plugging it on one occasion, and that the air compressor had been plugged in on a separate occasion. Bottom line: the home was old and given other mitigating factors, the fire was electrical in nature.
So what to make of all this, ultimately? Mr. Vela (and apparently others) read the text a certain way, and what I thought may be been a miscommunication or misunderstanding (Vela’s English was accompanied by a fairly heavy accent) betwen him and the fire chief apparently wasn’t. Needless to say, hopefully Vela will appreciate this attempt to set the record straight. And, I also appreciate von Holdt’s willingness to talk to me about the matter — not to mention what he does as a firefighter.
And I also appreciate Miss Bianchi, too, but that’s a different blog entirely.