Scooped in Cloverdale

Dateline: Wed 26 Sep 2007

Cloverdale, Ind., is one of those funny little Hoosier towns that always seems to be tied up in knots, or maybe nots. That's OK, because the intensity of infighting in this South Putnam County burg, population 2,241, makes for potentially great copy.

Since 2000, I've loosely followed Cloverdale politics in the local press, which left a singular sensation: Everybody was always highly pissed off at everybody else. But I couldn't always comprehend the Byzantine twists and turns in who said or did what to whom; I could only glean, from glancing at headlines and skimming news articles, that Cloverdale was a cauldron of nastiness bubbling over, from sewer problems in Stardust Hills to arson at a popular steakhouse to spats over the police department's K-9 team. What gives?

Then along came reporter Michael Zennie. The intrepid 22-year-old has taken a break from studying journalism at Indiana University to work at the Greencastle Banner-Graphic, the paper of record in these parts. His beat is luxurious, rich, earthy, dirty: Cloverdale.

Zennie has written many other fine, non-Cloverale articles, setting a high standard at the B-G. But his coverage of the quaint litle town's town meetings in particular is thorough, his tone discreet and nonpartial, his quotes oft subtly loaded. (My personal favorite -- a Sept. 15 story about the Cloverdale Town Board's decision to turn down a $5,000 grant for playground equipment; the story was typically filled with recriminations and counter-attacks, neatly summed up at the end with a comment from Town Attorney Allan Yackey, himself a controversial figure because he is collecting big-buck legal fees on a monthly basis):

Wrote Zennie: "When Yackey was asked after the meeting whether he had any plans to leave the position of town attorney, his characteristic furrowed brow and serious features softened into a broad smile.

" 'You wouldn't believe how much fun this is for me,' he said."

Yackey is not the only one having a blast. Cloverdale shenanigans have spilled over and inspired a new blog: CloverdaleINsite, which is, in the words of its creator Cloveria Quinlan,

"Insight and opinion as to the workings of the town of Cloverdale, Indiana. This is the stuff that the Banner, bless its heart, doesn't report."

Quinlan has high praise for Zennie's work; she frequently links to his articles, including today's piece on the five, count 'em five, active lawsuits filed against Cloverdale. She has dubbed him Zippy, because of the speed with which he has to file his stories due to the Banner-Graphic's pushed-up deadlines, plus the fact that she couldn't recall his surname at first. Bless her heart.

Says Ms. Quinlan of the Zip: "I love this guy. He actually treats Cloverdale like a real beat, keeping up with and posting updates in between the once a day updates." (Note from RH -- the B-G reporters now have blogs).

"If we had been treated like this in the past, I would probably never have felt the compunction to start this blog," concludes Ms. Q.

But she did, and here is the link:

http://cloverdalein.wordpress.com

Between Zippy -- I mean Zennie -- and Quinlan, journalism is experiencing a golden moment in Cloverdale.

Besides, now I have something to do with my long autumn/winter evenings: attend those Cloverdale town meetings, to report on the reporters and the blogmistress as they cover the players.

Thank God journalism is alive in the sticks.

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