A lot of sports fans were excited this week thanks to the opening of the Major League Baseball season.
Our local high school teams are on the verge of opening their new spring seasons as well, with Gloucester's baseball and softball teams both opening at home on Wednesday.
But this past week marked the dawn of an important season for our news team as well — and it's a season that picks up steam next week.
I'm talking, of course, about Town Meeting season — that stretch of four weeks in April and into early May when residents of Manchester, Rockport and Essex gather for one of New England's most longstanding governmental traditions, the Annual Town Meeting.
Town Meetings are nights when every registered town voter has a chance to be heard and not only cast a vote, but can propose amendments to potential bylaws, suggest and then vote on changes to town budgets, or take any of several other direct steps toward charting a course for his or her community's future — at least the next year.
They also, however, create some interesting coverage issues — and some of them showed up in our coverage of the Manchester Town Meeting last Monday night at Memorial School.
As it turned out, the most interesting decisions were those regarding a proposed "demolition delay" bylaw that voters emphatically shot down over concerns about property rights, and a plan to finalize purchase of a used boat for new harbormaster Bion Pike and put additional money into town dock maintenance and repairs.
Yet, our story in Tuesday morning's paper — while noting the budget-related discussion of spending $20,000 on dock repairs and maintenance — focused on the relatively routine approvals of the town budgets and funding for the town's Manchester Essex Regional School District assessment and tuition for local students who attend North Shore Technical High School and Essex Agricultural.
Why, you might ask, did your community's newspaper do that?
One reason was simple: budget approvals are important, and I'm always intrigued that voters at any town meetings can approve spending millions of dollars in a matter of 20 minutes, then spend hours debating plans for allowing dogs on local beaches. So in that vein, we wanted to give these issues proper context.
Another, however, was deadlines. Not knowing how late the meeting might go — or even, for certain, if it might extend to another night — we had to make certain that we had a proper story ready to send to the page by around 10 p.m. And at that point, the meeting was still going on.
We also cheated a bit. Knowing that the budget items — including any potential changes, like the dock funding — were among the first to come up on the warrant, town beat reporter Stephanie Bergman prepared the framework of a story focusing on budget issues, not knowing, of course, of any approvals.
As the meeting developed, Stephanie then sent in additional information on any budget changes, and some of the comments, including Pike's own recommendation for the dock and used boat proposal. And with that, we sent the story for the Tuesday morning Times.
The next morning, Stephanie crafted a story spotlighting the demolition delay bylaw, and noting that the animal bylaw changes and other articles were placed on hold. We posted that story online at gloucestertimes.com, and sent out a message via our text alert service to subscribers letting them know of the updates. Then, we pulled together a final story for Wednesday's paper, including the full list of which articles had been approved, which had not, and which were passed over.
One meeting, three stories, online updates and text messages? That's what it takes, in my mind, to give these meetings the coverage they and you, our readers, deserve.
As always, let me know what you think. Next stop, Rockport, Monday night.
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 x3438, or email@example.com.