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(Please note the word up there is “virality” and not something completely different….) (And yes, I completely made up that word.)


In this age of the interwebs and people able to search nearly any obscure piece of information or writing almost anywhere in the world, these things don’t surprise me anymore. Yet I still find stories like this in the “news” sites on the web. Oddly, they both come from the same experience.


One of the simultaneously charming yet odd bits of working for a weekly small town newspaper are the news updates from the smaller nearby towns, packaged as a weekly kind of social diary, written almost always by some elderly woman in a very frank, matter of fact style that makes the most thrilling event sound like it was nothing to really comment about.


Sure, those weekly missives from the ladies were laughable, focusing on visits from out-of-town family members to someone in town, or something equally of note in the village, but as I came to find out, they were considered very valuable to the community.


But it was the style of writing that I found funny. So when I heard about this restaurant review, I just had to laugh because it is exactly as those old ladies would have written nearly anything they put in the paper. For those too lazy to click through, this review, now a viral thread on the internet, is a restaurant review, written by one of North Dakota’s many such newspaper old ladies. But the restaurant she is reviewing is Olive Garden–so tragically common in large cities, but, with the addition of the latest opening in Grand Forks, now having only four locations in the entire Peace Garden state.


Read the review, because it’s charming and simple, all at the same time. It is exactly as all Olive Gardens are–the decor, design of the restaurant, and even, sadly, the food. We’ve all probably had the same alfredo she talks about in her review. But keep in mind that the restaurant is brand new to the reviewer, Ms. Hagerty. So some of her comments seem simultaneously incredulous and blunt, noting, for example, at one point that the waitress pushed the raspberry lemonade, but she settled instead for the water.


It’s very easy for those of us from the “more sophisticated” areas of the country to look down on this experience and review as hilarious–though it is funny–but aside from the charming style Ms. Hagerty uses, everywhere in this country has had the exact same first experience with an Olive Garden restaurant. None of us are immune from feeling the same things she did. The difference is that we didn’t go back and write about it in our column in a mid-sized city’s daily newspaper.


The postscript to this story is the viral part: her review has been shared around the world, and she is getting e-mails and phone calls about what she wrote. And, much to her credit for being a practical person, she appreciates the attention, but doesn’t understand it, because, after all, she was merely doing what she’s supposed to do for the paper.


On a much sadder note, I need to pass along a story that broke yesterday, also involving North Dakota newspapers. This is the story of a man who I am reasonably certain worked for the same chain of newspapers that Jenni and I did, though not at the same time–at least his byline is familiar to me, and I’m trying desperately to place it, and I have very little reason to know his name unless he wrote for our chain at some point.


The story is this: apparently, over much of his 20+ year career in journalism, the man plagiarized material for his columns and repackaged it as his own work, even, it is assumed, earning statewide awards for at least one piece.


Oh, it’s so easy to find a column written by someone half a world away and claim it as your own, assuming they’d have no reason to find out what you had done. But as easy as it is to find someone else’s column, it’s just as easy to find your own stolen column.


The paper he was working for here in Minnesota when this caper was discovered says that when confronted, he quickly and quietly left the job and left town–a shame, because in small towns, whether you write the weekly old lady news column or several news stories for the paper, you’re still an important and respected member of the community. To have betrayed that respect is sad and stupid.


So in review, kids, just remember: appreciate those first experiences, because you could have an old lady writing about them, but make sure you don’t steal the actual writing that’s being used to describe them.


See you tomorrow.