Why Cleveland.com’s string of health code violations is incomplete for service journalism

What goes on in Cleveland’s kitchens? Don’t look to Cleveland.com for answers
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What goes on in Cleveland’s kitchens? Don’t look to Cleveland.com for answers

Cleveland.com this month launched a series about health code violations in restaurants and stores. It is the bread and butter of public service journalism that newspapers have practiced for decades, journalism that Cleveland.com abandoned during the pandemic but has brought back, though without the revision that an enterprise like this deserves.

Publicly labeling a restaurant dirty not only harms oneself but also harms others, especially since, as Cleveland.com editor Chris Quinn admits, tallying the abuses reaches a large audience.

“This is some of our most popular content,” he said, discussing the article on the final episode of the podcast today on Cleveland.com in Ohio. “Everyone wants to know. Is my restaurant dirty? Yes.”

But are they?

Some, as Scene found when searching inspection records, had food storage violations at unsafe temperatures, failures to adhere to sterilization processes, cockroaches discovered in basements, and products not being labeled with preparation/expiration dates.

But, reading the Cleveland.com story, one wouldn’t know if the critical and non-critical violations issued during the health inspections were for playing with sneaky bags of raw chicken cutlets before they hit the grill or for some violations considered “severe” but for diners it might It sounds very simple. For example, the existence of any serious violation is itself an additional serious violation. So no sign was posted alerting employees to avoid coming to work if they were sick. Therefore, having a hot water tap dispenses water with a temperature a degree lower than the standards.

But none of this is available to readers, who are simply told the name of the restaurant, the date(s) of the inspection, the number of violations, and how many of those were critical. Even the article lacks any link or explanation as to where you should go to check for violations yourself, making Cleveland.com’s Laura Johnston’s suggestion on the podcast to “Check out what’s causing the violations. And if you’re comfortable, we’re not saying these are death traps.” Unhelpful advice.

And Cleveland.com knows, from empirical evidence, that the average reader won’t take that extra step, because they’re used to including links, and users ignore them.

“We’ve been doing this for two years, but people haven’t used the links,” Quinn told Scene. “It was boring to include them, so we left it useless.”

Which makes the idea of ​​throwing a big, scary number next to the restaurant’s name without any other details nonsensical. Lacking any clarity, hmm We are Saying that these places are death snares.

And it is not. As Cleveland Department of Public Health director Dave Margolius noted yesterday “If a restaurant is licensed by our team, that means the food service operator is doing things right. Cleveland.com did not reach out to us for comment on these pieces.”

(To review violations yourself, head to the Cleveland Department of Public Health’s website, where inspections of restaurant facilities can be searched using keywords.)

By comparison, the Akron Beacon Journal also publishes health code violations for restaurants, but includes the full report and all relevant details for readers.

Six other Shooter’s Coffee owners, Peter Brown and Sarah Stockum, had another beef in the rankings, which their new Brooklyn shop listed as having the 23rd most violations in Cleveland with 50.

The problem: They happened before they opened their doors, the two said on a social media post this week.

A note has since been added to the article noting the correction regarding Six Shooter, although it is still listed as a top offender overall.

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