Our front pages yesterday and today have been dominated by coverage of our own Gloucester Daily Times debates involving a total of five contested city races, all held Wednesday and Thursday night at the Gloucester Stage Company.
In fact, Thursday’s front page also featured a photo from the debates’ opening night, spotlighting the Ward 2 race between Melissa Cox and Ann Frontiero Mulcahey, and teasing to full coverage in the days that followed. And all of that created an interesting dynamic — one that newspapers usually try to avoid.
Let’s face it. We not only provided lead story and photo coverage this week, but we were a part of the news ourselves as the hosts for these events, while fielding and posing the questions to the candidates. And that’s not usually the way that we at the Times — or other media outlets — work.
So, why do we host these debates? Shouldn’t we simply cover the debates hosted by other organizations and leave it at that? Why, you might ask, does your community’s newspaper do that?
Because we believe that presenting a series of debates like the ones held at Gloucester Stage this week provides an important community service each election season.
As I’ve often noted in the past, we don’t just see our role as covering news throughout Gloucester and our Cape Ann towns — we see ourselves as a part of our Cape Ann community as well.
I know I’ve always thought of our Times debates as a part of our community’s election process, dating to the first one we hosted – a clash during the 2008 State House race election, when we brought together then-Rep. Anthony Verga, then-challenger Ann-Margaret Ferrante and a third candidate, Astrid afKlinteberg. That began a series of such events at Gloucester Stage, which has always been gracious in hosting these events for us, and which I believe is a nearly ideal debate setting — with its intimate 195-seat capacity, three-sided seating, and theater-quality lighting.
While other groups indeed host debates, we’re also proud to be able to present these events free and open to the public. And the format also involves the entire community, with the questions posed to each of the candidates being culled from those submitted by Times readers in the days leading up to the debates themselves.
In that way, we like to try to get more residents throughout the community involved in the election process. And we try to involve as many candidates and races as possible – this year including the School Committee candidates for the first time, along with the mayoral candidates and those facing contested races for both ward council seats and councilor-at-large posts.
Yes, organizing these debates can be a lot of work; aside from firming up dates that are open at the theater, we have to try to secure nights that are workable for all of the candidates — and that can mean dodging school and council committee meetings, as was the case again this year.
The next step is to put out the announcement of the schedules — and a call for questions, to which some 40 readers responded this time around. Then, finally, there’s the actual coordination of the event itself. That’s everything from firming up coverage plans with Cape Ann TV — whose multiple rebroadcasts get the candidates’ words and positions out to voters across the city — to holding the candidates’ draw minutes before the debate to decide who will have the first or, perhaps more importantly, the last word.
The idea behind all of this, of course, is to take a hands-on, community leadership role in helping voters glean as much information as possible about all of the candidates heading into Election Day. And, yes, that includes providing Page 1 coverage of these debates — even though it represents coverage of our own event.
Delivering you the information to make informed decisions when you go to the polls is what a community newspaper’s role is all about. And welcoming the entire community to our own debates is, I’ve always thought, a good way of doing that.
As always, let me know that you think.
Questions? Comments? Is there a topic you’d like to see addressed in a future column? Contact Times Editor Ray Lamont at 978-283-7000, x3432, or via email at email@example.com.