GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

March 2, 2013

Why Did My Newspaper Do That? Taking coverage beyond hearings and board rooms

Why Did My Newspaper Do That?
Ray Lamont

---- — There is no doubt more than one area of Gloucester in which the Department of Public Works is still grappling with cleanup from February’s snow, rain and wind storms.

Similarly, there are obviously fishermen other than Don King (see news story, Page 1) wrestling with an entire range of economic concerns as the new fishing year approaches. And, yes, we know that local businesses and service agencies other than Pathways for Children and The Strong Group are waiting on pins and needles to learn just how the federal “sequestration,” budget cuts and shameful gridlock in Washington, D.C., will affect them.

But while all of these stories in the Times this week are rooted in government management and/or services, none of them were told from a governmental perspective, based on government statistics or other information gleaned from meeting halls and board rooms. And none spent a lot of words or lines quoting government officials — including the incredibly dense and rhetoric-heavy Washington congressional sequestration issue covered on Page 1 today.

Why? Why not reiterate the government actions — or inaction — that were, in some ways, behind these stories? How could we present a story about the federal sequestration cuts that didn’t spotlight the many numbers and proposals in play in our nation’s capital?

Why, in other words, would your community’s newspaper do that?

Because each of these stories, we felt, were better told from the perspectives of community residents and business leaders who are not dealing with these issues in City Hall’s Kyrouz auditorium, in NOAA headquarters or in the halls of Congress, but right in their own homes or businesses — just like you may be touched by them as well.

I have always felt, for example, that newspapers and other media rarely do readers or listeners any favors by covering national health-care changes and the ensuing debate by forever focusing on the mountains of statistics and the words of political leaders. The best way to convey what these changes mean to readers is by bringing the story to them — showing them that, for example, if a particular change were to go through, our own neighbors down the street might be in danger of losing their health insurance. And that can show residents how even the most complex and seemingly distant issue can indeed affect each and every one of us.

In our most recent storm story, for instance, we could have simply noted that some residents were raising questions about the lowland flooding behind homes and businesses on Maplewood Avenue and Myrtle Square — and we could have simply quoted Gloucester DPW Director Mike Hale as indicating that the issue was beyond the city’s reach, because the flooding is essentially on private propety. But that would not have conveyed the seriousness of the problem, as Marjorie Nesin’s story and Allegra Boverman’s photos showcased in Friday’s paper. And that would not have touched on the deeper explanations, with Hale noting that the city has tried to address the problem through repairs to Maplewood Avenue, and the perspective that the issue has been exacerbated over the years by development behind the Gloucester rail station and even, as some suggest, through runoff from Gloucester Crossing.

The same goes for today’s story about fisherman Don King, whose tale, as presented by our own Richard Gaines, literally puts a face on the numbers and decrees that have brought about an “economic disaster” in the Northeast groundfishery. And the same applies to the situations confronting the likes of Pathways director Susan Todd and Strong Group’s Steve Kaity, whose plight as outlined in today’s Page 1 story is no doubt being mirrored in agencies and businesses across Cape Ann and around the nation while questions over federal spending cuts drag on.

In each of these cases, our goal was not to feed you with all of the background numbers and talks that have fueled these problems, but to show and tell you about what they mean for very real local people – and thus for you.

As always, let me know what you think.

Questions? Comments? Contact Times Editor Ray Lamont at 978-283-7000, x3438, or at rlamont@gloucestertimes.com.