Can the fact that something is NOT happening be news?
You bet. And we had a couple of interesting examples of that this past week here at the Times -- with both such stories getting prominent play in Friday’s edition.
The first was our story about the status of Gloucester’s Harborwalk, one of the city’s prized waterfront development projects, while the other was the story outlining the fact that, among other issues, the Board of Trustees at the Gloucester Community Arts Charter School has neither approved a new contract for Executive Director Tony Blackman, nor decided to make a change -- as some charter school parents are urging -- even as the calendar winds toward the start of the new school year less than two months from today.
In each of those cases, the news was what wasn’t happening -- especially on the Harborwalk front. The $1.2 million Harborwalk, after all, was supposed to be complete in time to welcome visitors and residents alike by mid-June, before St. Peter’s Fiesta and the Fourth of July celebrations. Yet, over the past two weekends -- while some folks have indeed been walking the walk, so to speak, behind The Pub at the Cape Ann Brewing Co. and Latitude 43 -- other parts of the prized walk remained clearly unfinished and in disarray, most notably where it inches up along the Gloucester House side of the city’s I-4, C-2 property.
While some of the posts for the educational history markers are in place, most of the markers themselves are not. So, over the last two weeks especially, we’d been hearing more and more questions and comments around town about the Harborwalk’s unfinished status. And by this week, figured it was time to do a story.
Public Works Director Mike Hale, who’s been at the forefront of the project along with Mayor Carolyn Kirk, explained to Staff Writer Steven Fletcher that the entire project should be completed in another two weeks. So in that vein, we had to make a judgment call: Should we simply wait until the project is finished? We decided not to do that, and to go with the update this week.
Why would we want to do one Page 1 story now, and perhaps another in a couple of weeks, when the city could be having a grand opening? Why, in other words, would your community’s newspaper do that?
Because the project, long touted as being “on time and on budget,” was neither. And the fact that it wasn’t -- with Fiesta, the Horribles Parade and the Fourth of July now behind us -- was, in my mind, a legitimate news story. That especially seemed the case when Hale noted that the “scope” of the project had expanded a bit, though no one from the city could yet provide a figure for how much that added “scope” might cost, whether it would also be covered by the state Seaport Advisory Council, which has largely funded the $1.2 millon project to date, or whether any new costs would be picked up by the city.
The charter school situation may have also been about something not happening. But it, too, stands as a legitimate news story, especially considering the tightening timeframe as the new school year looms.
In this case, the story was actually drawn from word we had received that, in fact, Executive Director Tony Blackman and the charter school’s trustees had not yet reached an agreement on a new contract despite more than 11 hours of closed-door negotiating -- and now, despite the fact that his contract had actually expired, meaning the school had neither a director or director of education, the former principal’s position, secured for the new school year.
Is the fact that Blackman’s contract status hadn’t been approved seen as a big issue? Apparently not by the state Department of Education; Associated Commissioner of Education Jeff Wulfson said as much, adding the state has “no reason to believe (Blackman) won’t stay on.”
But it clearly is an issue for some school parents, who have petitioned the trustees to seek another executive director.
And that sure made it a news story in my book. 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, x3438, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.