This week’s local news coverage, of course, was dominated by Gloucester’s biannual city elections.
But it was the development and breaking of another story that actually raised some interesting issues regarding its timing and presentation, which evolved quite differently than the frantic, urgent pace of Election Night itself.
You see, it was actually midday Monday that we first got word about, as a message out of City Hall noted, some “exciting news” for Gloucester. The word was that the state’s Seaport Advisory Council would be meeting here Thursday, and its agenda included a vote on a grant of $5 million or more to repair portions of Stacy Boulevard.
The message didn’t indicate anything beyond that, and there were clearly some key questions — including what specific repairs would be undertaken, and was the project fully grant funded. And as the story evolved, we first reported the news of the pending grant in Thursday’s Times, with Marjorie Nesin nailing down most aspects of the story, then following with the news of the state board’s approval and more when that came through on Thursday.
But wait -- that’s three days later, right? Shouldn’t the story have broken prior to that?
Why did we handle it the way we did? Why, in other words, did your community’s newspaper do that?
There are actually many reasons.
First and foremost, we needed to firm up many aspects of the story. Also, the grant, assuming it would be approved, would not be finalized until the Thursday meeting.
But there were frankly other issues in play as well — and that takes us back to the Tuesday elections.
I’ve always felt that one of the true tenets of election coverage is to be fair, and on Election Day especially, to let voters decide based on the issues at hand. That’s one of the reasons we don’t run any more letters to the editor on the day prior to the election, or the day of it; it’s also why any story that runs on those days is devoid of all but basic polling and voter information — without even rehashing candidates views. Let’s face it, by the time some readers got to sit down and check out their Tuesday Times, they may have already voted. And if a letter that ran on Monday required a response from a candidate, any such response would be on newsstands or subscribers’ doorsteps after some folks had already voted.
In a way, we felt the same guidelines should hold for any rush to get an initial, nebulous grant story into the Tuesday paper.
Challenger Mac Bell had made an issue of the Boulevard’s maintenance and appearance during the campaign, while Mayor Carolyn Kirk had, during the Oct. 17 Times debate, promised a “major announcement” regarding the Boulevard in the coming weeks.
Would it be fair to essentially lead the paper on Election Day with a glowing story that this grant was nearly in the city’s hands? Frankly, I didn’t think it was.
Could we have nailed the story on Tuesday for the Wednesday paper? In most weeks, yes — but not when we knew we’d be cramming to write, edit and deliver a full election night package against a tight deadline time frame. Also, we would have been hard-pressed to justify running this important story on Page 1, and it clearly deserved Page 1 attention.
With all that in mind, we jumped on the Boulevard grant story the day after the election, when Marjorie could take the time to firm up as many details as possible heading into the Thursday morning paper and the Seaport Advisory’s meeting. And on Thursday, we confirmed that, yes, the grant had gained approval, the project would tackle the seawall, canal and walkways — with a $5.6 million grant covering part of a $6.72 million project, and the city adding $1.12 million, or a 20 percent match.
When it comes to breaking news stories — fires, storms, crime events that threaten public safety – time is clearly of the essence. We do all we can to get you the news you need to prepare, react or take any urgent action. But on stories such as this, it seemed far more important to take the time needed to thoroughly report the story — without throwing in an 11th-hour Election Day wild card.
As always, let me know what 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.