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Archive for September, 2011

NEW FOOD = BIG STORY

The Skinny Pancake takes its place along University Row.

As journalistic scoops go, this probably doesn’t rival uncovering the story behind the Watergate break-in. But while walking in front of Williams Hall on Tuesday I noticed an unfamiliar addition to the usual line-up of food trucks along University Row—a funky, yellow Airstream. Relying on my reporter’s instincts, I read the sign: “The Skinny Pancake.” Digging, I uncovered a source, a shaggy guy working inside the Airstream, and asked him how long they’d had their vending trailer on campus. “This is the first day,” he said.

Since the University Communications office began more regularly adding content to the UVM Facebook page, I’ve gotten in the habit of carrying my camera around campus to take shots. It seems that ephemera, glimpsed moments that give a sense of life at the university are among the better uses of Facebook for us. So I snapped some shots and was grateful for the student with the orange backpack and green jacket for adding some life, color, and compositional interest to the photo.

Back to the office with my scoop and I popped it up on Facebook along with the news that the Skinny Pancake was generously donating 100% of their proceeds to the Burlington Intervale Farmer’s Recovery Fund. The “likes” and the “comments” began to pop up extremely quickly. The count stands at 79 likes, 17 comments, and 13 shares. (I have a strong impulse to follow these tallies, this evidence that someone is reading and liking out there. It’s something I really should get help with.)

Why all the interest?

In retrospect, I’d say there were a number of things working for that post:

1) The Skinny Pancake itself. If you haven’t been to Burlington in a few years, “skinny pancake” is an Americanization for those among us who can’t handle the word crepe. There’s an SP flagship restaurant on the corner of Lake and College, a cart on Church Street, a sister cafe, The Chubby Muffin, in the Old North End, and now this cool trailer on campus. It’s a popular place, particularly with your younger crowd.

2) Post-Irene generosity. The Skinny Pancake gave 100% of their proceeds to the Intervale Farmer’s Recovery Fund this week. Not 10%. 100%. There’s every reason to like that. Bravo, guys.

3) Timing. I posted this right about 11:45 a.m. My theory: People were hungry as they looked at Facebook. Don’t go to the grocery store when you’re hungry or you’ll buy everything. Likewise, don’t read Facebook when you’re hungry or you’ll like all of the food-related posts.

4) Photo. In our experience at UVM, photos get liked. This particular photo featured something bright, smooth, yellow, like a big baby toy. It made you happy to look at it and who doesn’t like happy?

5) Tradition. Finally, the campus food trucks are beloved at UVM. Current students, faculty, staff, alumni truly care about them. Comments lit up with inquiries whether Pam’s was still running. Recently retired art professor Frank Owen, a longtime connoisseur of the trucks, weighed in from Keene Valley, NY: “To think that I am not there daily to taste the goods.”

There you have it, news that matters. Anxiously awaiting my Pulitzer Prize for Facebook Post.

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AFTER IRENE

At work on a VQ news story that will look at a number of ways the UVM community has reached out to help the state in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene, I had the good fortune to talk with Sarah Waterman this morning. Sarah is a post-bac/pre-med student at UVM (which means she’s getting the science courses she needs under her belt before medical school). Her brainchild, #VTResponse, was a quicksilver, Internet-age reaction to the storm that established an on-line resource connecting those in need with those willing to help. The site was up and running not long after Irene cleared Vermont’s borders.

Sarah Waterman: "I had a moment of being unwilling to accept inaction. It just wasn't going to work for me this time."

Sarah joined with Matt Sisto, UVM Class of ’07, and Katie Kent in the effort that involved 18-hour days on the part of all three as the site was finding its legs. Listening to Sarah’s story, I had the sense that her role in #VTResponse was a “perfect storm” of a very different kind. She had on-the-ground experience working in Biloxi, Mississippi in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina; academic interest and education in disaster preparedness; Web/social media savvy, particularly with the help of her friends; and a deep need to help her native state in a tangible way.

“It was either my best idea or worst idea,” Sarah told me with a slight smile. “On Monday afternoon (the day after the storm), I realized it was going to explode.” The site had 8,000 hits on that Monday and nearly 30,000 by Tuesday and quickly became the go-to resource for those offering help and those needing it.

With the storm two weeks past, the #VTResponse team has streamlined the system to the point that it’s “only” consuming about twenty hours a week for each of them. A good thing for Sarah as she now has time to sleep in addition to her classes and coaching cross-country at Mount Mansfield Union. But don’t mistake that as an indication that there isn’t still great need for help, particularly in communities such as Jamaica, Cavendish, and Plymouth which have just recovered to the point where they can use help. #VTResponse is coordinating teams of ten, several UVM groups among them, that will go into those communities for clean-up this Friday and in the weeks ahead.

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