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I can’t smell it, but I was still drawn to the story behind an ongoing stench.
Late last month, I was pulled into the latest environmental quagmire in La Jolla: bird poop that can’t be removed without clearing multiple regulatory hurdles.
As a reporter, I wanted to be able to explain it to readers but I had to acknowledge my handicap.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been without a sense of smell. I’ve never enjoyed the aroma of hot coffee or endured the stench of rotting fish.
But a reporter’s job is to check facts and break them down, so I tried to make up for my nasal inadequacies as I worked on the story.
I asked nearly everyone I interviewed for their take on the stench. What do the bird droppings smell like? What about rotting fish? How does it feel to walk along the cove? Many of them chuckled at the idea of the reporter who can’t smell working on such a story. I recorded all their responses, minus the kind-hearted jokes.
My boyfriend was also nice enough to endure a Saturday morning at the stinky cove to help me. I took careful notes as he described the smell.
Despite all the nasty descriptions, I longed to encounter it myself. I worried I wouldn’t fully grasp the problem without taking in the stench.
When it came time to write my story, I reviewed all the smelly details and tried to sum them up in my story.
With my boyfriend’s assistance, I settled on this line to describe the stench:
The bird droppings give off the pungent odor of fish that’s been left to rot.
Then I emailed the description to a colleague who lives and surfs in La Jolla to be sure I got it right.
His reply: “Absolutely.”
I was relieved but still cautious. It seems a simple enough line but I can’t vouch for it myself. I’m physically unable.
So did I get it right? How would you describe the smell? How would you go about reporting or researching something despite physical limitations? And hey, is there anyone else out there who can’t smell?
Lisa Halverstadt is a reporter at Voice of San Diego. Know of something she should check out? You can contact her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.325.0528.
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Disclosure: Voice of San Diego members and supporters may be mentioned or have a stake in the stories we cover. For a complete list of our contributors, click here.