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Editor's Notebook Getting Street Smart
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You see us coming ... camera slung around the neck, notebook in hand, occasionally the look of desperation in our eyes.

We are the 'street beat' reporters, the people whose turn it is to set out on the streets in search of six willing people - victims, some might say - to answer our 'question of the week' for the paper.

A longstanding tradition, the questions vary from the serious to the silly, the interesting to the unusual. People generally say they enjoy reading people's responses and look forward to seeing what the question is, but few actually want to take part.

"I look terrible today," is one favorite way to opt out.

"I'm really in a hurry, I don't have time today," is another.

Granted, those are valid reasons for not wanting to appear in the local paper.

Some people, however, are more honest.

"I like seeing who you get, but I don't want to do it," is an answer I have gotten when being turned down.

Trust me, as much as you, the general public, doesn't like being approached to answer the question, it probably doesn't come close to the way some of those in our street beat rotation feel about going out there to approach you.

It is the least-liked assignment in house. Except when we have a fun question like asking young kids how to cook the Thanksgiving turkey; that's always a fun one.

Years ago, when I first started with the trio of papers (Oakdale, Riverbank and Escalon) there was a rotating schedule so each reporter had to do the street beat question in each town. One week you would be in Oakdale, the next in Escalon, then you would get a week off, then be in Riverbank. It was fair, everybody had their turn in each place and everybody occasionally got a break.

Then it evolved into being the responsibility of each individual paper to handle the assignment, with Riverbank's reporter responsible for that town, Escalon for that community and Oakdale was still rotated among the reporters there. We now occasionally 'cross over' into different towns, Craig Macho has taken on Escalon's nearly every week; I sometimes will do it there and we both once in a while do the question in Riverbank to give John Branch a break.

Craig, in fact, volunteered to do Street Beat in all three towns when he first got here and was gung ho about this reporter gig.

He's still gung ho about reporting ... Street Beat, not so much.

So in a staff meeting late last year, we started kicking around the idea of changing how we do our 'Question of the Week' feature and want to officially revise it. What we are looking for are volunteers, people from each of our three communities to serve as our 'opinion panel' that we could call on for comment on the question. We would take a file photo (the Street Beat 'mug shot') and keep that on file, along with a phone number or, preferably, an email address. Each week, we would contact a handful of our opinion people for a comment on the question, then put them in with the photo of them that we already have on hand.

We are hoping for volunteers that would be able to tackle all topics, and not be bashful about voicing opinions on political, social or other sensitive issues. The tentative arrangement would have four people used each week, allowing for a bit more length in answers. With representatives from each of our communities, participants would be used on a rotating basis.

To make this work, though, we have to hear from you. If you are interested in being one of our panelists, let us know.

The sooner we get our panel in place, the sooner we can start the new format.

And the sooner we can stop walking up to you at the grocery store, the library, the coffee shop or the post office and asking those 10 dreaded words: Would you like to answer the question of the week?

Send letters of interest with contact information to: Street Beat, c/o Oakdale Leader, P.O. Box 278, Oakdale, CA 95361 or email me directly,

We'll keep you updated on the search for our panelists and encourage people from a variety of backgrounds to consider joining in ... we look forward to hearing from you.