GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

Patriot Stories

January 17, 2009

Still the best avenue for speaking to the local community

The night that Capt. Gail Kulisch, commander of U.S. Coast Guard Sector Boston, came to Gloucester to visit for the first time with local officials and the families of the victims lost in the Patriot tragedy, she and Coast Guard Station Gloucester Cmdr. Nathan Knapp also came to visit the Times.

They met with me and briefly with Times reporter Richard Gaines — who, of course, had broken the story about the Coast Guard's delayed response to the Patriot's distress. But they didn't talk about our coverage. Mostly, Capt. Kulisch talked about how best to keep the lines of communication open between the Times and Coast Guard, and how to get the word about what the Coast Guard was doing out to the community.

I simply told her and Cmdr. Knapp that they should use the Times to speak to the community at large. Four days later, after additional stories on the Coast Guard response, we received and printed a letter to the Times from Rear Adm. Dale Gabel, the commander of Coast Guard District Boston, who expressed condolences to the families and explained that the Coast Guard would carry out an evaluation of all aspects of the Patriot disaster.

In most cases, an admiral offering any comment on a fishing boat tragedy that claimed the lives of two local fishermen might be used only in a news story — and would have been issued as a press release. And in those cases, we might have printed just a few lines of the full statement in a news story while also getting back to others involved the story for their reaction.

So, why would your community's newspaper choose, in this case, to run the admiral's entire letter? And on the Opinion page?

For one thing, our news stories over those days had included comments from the fishing community as well as the Coast Guard about the Coast Guard 's response, and about its investigation. But in this case, the admiral had sent in the extraordinary 600-word piece to be run as a letter — even beginning with the phrase "to the editor." And, perhaps more importantly, I very much believe the Opinion page of the Times — and the Times in general — indeed offers the best chance for the Coast Guard, or anyone else, for that matter, to communicate with Gloucester and Cape Ann's residents on a large scale.

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