Seven Days got a satisfying shout-out in last Friday's New York Times e-newsletter. In an item headlined "In Praise of Vermont," "The Morning" noted how the state "continues to do a fabulous job" controlling the spread of the coronavirus while cases are spiking in other rural parts of the country. To explain it, the writer borrowed some theories from Ripton resident and environmentalist Bill McKibben, who wrote a piece on the subject for the New Yorker back in the summer.
The e-newsletter recalled that McKibben attributed "Vermont's success" to Gov. Phil Scott's nonpartisan, science-first approach to the pandemic and to "two strong local media organizations — VTDigger and Seven Days — that keep residents informed." More noteworthy, to McKibben, was that "both took an intriguing step early in the pandemic ... They shut down their comments sections, to prevent misinformation from spreading."
Seven Days discontinued online feedback on April 6; VTDigger.org followed suit on July 17.
Of course, not everybody is happy with our decision to "prioritize the production of responsible journalism over moderating online debates between readers," as we phrased it in the letters to the editor section three weeks after the coronavirus hit Vermont. As I was writing this, we got an email from a devoted reader arguing against the policy. "If the purpose of Seven Days is to help people know what's going on locally, then the climate of opinion is an important part of that package," he reasoned on the same day that White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows announced, "We're not going to control the pandemic."
"I understand that the section can be misused by trolls," wrote our reader, "and riding herd on it can take up much staff time. But ... it feels like my wife and I are basically sitting in our house, talking only to each other, and not really knowing what's going on out there in the public mind. Perhaps, if only now, as a pandemic public service, you could bring back the reader responses to help repair the general disconnection."
Alas, we're not rebooting the digital forum anytime soon. We've been devoting more space to letters to the editor — the original form of reader interaction. As required at Seven Days for more than a quarter century, letter writers must use their real names, list a town of residence, disclose any conflicts of interest or relevant biographical information, and respond to a confirmation phone call — usually from me, on the weekend before publication. That's a pandemic public service Seven Days is happy to provide.
Another one: recommendations for fun things to do close to home. You'll find lots of them in this month's Staytripper. The special supplement was scheduled to phase out in October, but the pandemic hasn't, so the monthly section lives on, connecting Vermonters to safe sources of food, commerce, culture and outdoor activity in dropping temps. Editor Carolyn Fox — who normally manages our special publications 7 Nights, BTV, What's Good and the annual All the Best — has done an amazing job finding signs of life all across Vermont this year.
She's already assigned stories for December and January.
At least one of us can plan beyond next Tuesday. Don't forget to vote!