, Gloucester, MA


June 16, 2013

Why Did My Newspaper Do That? Covering a death in the family

There’s been a huge void here at the Times this week.

Like many workplaces, the staff of the Times often seems like an extended family. And in that vein, last Sunday’s stunning news of Richard Gaines’ passing felt very much like a death in the family a well.

But reporting on Richard’s death raised a number of challenges over the course of Sunday night into Monday and beyond — decisions that had to be made while also dealing with the profound loss of our colleague, Times “family” member and friend.

I can tell you that one of the most difficult decisions that ever comes up in a newsroom is whether to present an extensive story on a community leader when he or she passes away. And, sad to say, we’ve had a few such stories over the last year, from longtime teachers and civic officials like Al Swekla, who died in February, to Peter Watson, who died last November, and now, to our own Richard Gaines.

What’s the driving force behind whether to pursue such a story?

In general, we try to look at the level of impact the person had on our community, and the number of people whose lives were impacted by his or her contributions.

In Richard’s case, that raised some interesting questions. Yes, he was well-known to many in the field of journalism and to our readers. But he never held or even ran for public office, and never held a seat on a municipal or other government board, as far as I know.

Yet he was, as I’ve told others this week, the most persistent and passionate journalist with whom I’ve ever worked, and he certainly carved out a true leadership role of sorts in the fishing industry, both here in Gloucester and around the nation.

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