GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

June 16, 2013

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

Why Did My Newspaper Do That?
Ray Lamont

---- — 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.

So last Sunday night, while still trying to come to grips with the Richard’s passing, we decided that his death warranted not only coverage for the next day’s paper and with a follow-up reaction and tribute to come on Tuesday, but that it merited breaking news coverage on our gloucestertimes.com website Sunday night.

Did Richard’s death get more attention simply because he was one of our own? Was it truly breaking news? Why would your community’s newspaper report it like that?

First, the story was indeed newsworthy Sunday night because his death drew an emergency response from Gloucester police and firefighters, and a number of people quickly became aware of the call. Those who responded to the call from Richard’s wife Nancy, who had tragically come home to find him dead in the swimming pool outside their home, quickly found there was no suspicious nature to his death. Speculation remains that he may have suffered a heart attack, or fallen and hit his head while beginning the clean the pool, as he often did, and as he and Nancy had planned to do when she returned home.

But far beyond that, Richard Gaines was indeed one of our community leaders. And he was someone who had a very real role in and affect upon the lives of many residents, officials — and especially, over the last five years, the lives of our Gloucester and New England fishermen, who indeed deserved to know of his passing, and could access the story when it was posted online at gloucestertimes.com.

Lest there be any doubt, the range, scope and appreciation of Richard’s work — and of Richard as a person — became more evident than ever within the first few hours that the tragic story appeared online. Indeed, the calls, emails and written tributes to Richard and his work this week have come from across Cape Ann, across the state, across the nation, and rightfully so.

All of us here at the Times knew Richard as the quintessential journalist, and a truly unique character who never gave up fighting for the truth, and fighting for the underdog. He was, in fact, an inspiration — and legacy will remain so for many, many years to come.

Yes, his passing very much feels like a death in the family — but not just to his own family, or his extended family here at the Times. His death is a loss to our entire community, and that has very much made it front-page news.

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, or at rlamont@gloucestertimes.com.