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Of oysters and timing


LAST SATURDAY I SAT IN THE SUNSHINE ON the Arcata Plaza listening to music and sipping a dark, creamy beer. (No personal endorsements in this column, but it was the local brew that reminds me of Guinness and rhymes with Downtown Brown.) I finished the beer along with a wonderful paper tub of oysters -- which had been rolled in a light breading of coconut, cilantro and cornmeal, delicately fried and topped with a yummy mango salsa.

Later, when I circled the square again in search of my next course, a friend stopped me with, "You are so in trouble for that article!" I didn't have to ask which one since I already had heard several similar jittery comments regarding the subject and the timing of last week's cover story.

"Most people are more intelligent than we give them credit for. They can read," I replied, hoping it were true.

For those who missed it, we reported the following:

There is dioxin in the mud in Mad River Slough near the Sierra Pacific Industries mill. (Not news.)

A new study made public a few weeks ago reports that elevated levels of dioxin have been found in shellfish near the mill -- specifically, mussels and crab. (Breaking news.)

That the state water board two weeks ago ordered Sierra Pacific to further test shellfish to see if human health risks might exist and that the company has agreed to do so. (Breaking news.)

That was all we knew as of last week and I felt comfortable going to the festival and stuffing myself. So, apparently did a lot of other people not unduly alarmed by the report even though some were sitting there reading Journals that day. Some booths, including my favorite, sold out of oysters early.

Concerning the timing of the story: readers should remember that this was breaking news, meaning that any other news media, including the Times-Standard, could have reported it. Why they did not is unknown.

In addition, to hold off publishing a story that is factually correct, timely and relevent to our readers because of a community festival or event would have not only been irresponsible journalism, it would have been cowardly. Our job is to report and let readers reach their own conclusions. I think most Journal readers understand and can distinguish between our job of reporting the news -- and civic boosterism.

Finally, we have since learned that there is new information about how long state water officials actually knew of shellfish containing the chemical PCP. For an update, see the News.


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