Columnist Stanley Moulton: Leaving newsroom to become a reader

  • Stanley Moulton is seen here during his reporting days in the 1970s. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

  • A more recent photo of Moulton, who retires Friday after 42½ years at the Gazette. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Published: 8/30/2018 8:54:03 PM

During my first months as a full-time reporter at the Gazette, I wrote several stories in April 1976 about a 20-year-old man who committed suicide while a patient at the Northampton State Hospital.

Our investigation revealed that though the man was evaluated as dangerously suicidal, the state hospital had failed to adequately protect him by discontinuing special suicide prevention precautions. The state Department of Mental Health concluded that the hospital’s staff erred by not properly reviewing the man’s medical history and failing to communicate about his care.

It was an important story because it shone a light on larger questions about the quality of care at the state hospital, and led to some reforms, including improved staff training and the addition of fully-licensed physicians.

During my reporting, I got to know the young man’s mother and learned more about his life. I was not simply writing about the victim of an institution’s failure; I was also writing about the death of a person who had been loved by his family and who faced challenges while living in our community.

That sense of connection was a valuable lesson for a young reporter, and one that has stayed with me during my 42½ years in the Gazette’s newsroom. As community journalists, we write about our neighbors, many of whom we are likely to run into at the grocery store or hear from on the other end of the phone.

I will miss that engagement with the community — people who are the subjects of our stories as well as faithful readers — when I leave daily newspapering after Friday. I have been fortunate to work for a newspaper committed to quality local journalism that informs and entertains, and reports things as mundane as school lunch menus while striving to explain how complex issues affect you.

Earlier this month, the Gazette participated in a campaign by newspapers nationwide to write editorials responding to President Donald Trump’s unprecedented attacks on the press. I wrote that the president’s rhetoric did not deter us from “our mission of informing a responsible citizenry and holding public officials and institutions accountable. We regard that as a public service” carried out in all sections of our newspaper.

I’ve helped shape most of them, from news to sports, in print and, since 1996, on our website, The tools have changed — I was among the last in our newsroom to give up my manual typewriter — and a single daily deadline has given way to the capability of publishing online around the clock. Unchanged are our standards for accurate, balanced and fair reporting, and clearly distinguishing objective news stories from the commentary we publish.

Since October 2016, I have been the steward of the Gazette’s daily Opinion pages and the Viewpoints section published monthly. In addition to writing many of the editorials expressing the newspaper’s point of view, and editing our regular columnists, I have been the gatekeeper curating submissions of guest columns and letters to the editor from our readers.

In that role, I renewed my acquaintance with many people whose paths I crossed earlier in my career at the Gazette, and also have met dozens of readers new to me. I commend you for your thoughtful, well-expressed opinions on so many topics, from the hyper-local to, occasionally, otherworldly. I am disappointed that space has not allowed all to be published.

Among the notes I received as my retirement neared was a card from a woman in Cummington who thanked me for publishing two of her guest columns, and went on to say, “you have been making my local paper a good one, the best one, for decades.”

Though she wrote to me, her compliment really was directed at all of the talented reporters, editors and photographers, and my coworkers throughout the Gazette, who are committed to excellence in our mission of community journalism. I leave a newsroom led by the Gazette’s new editor in chief, Brooke Hauser, who shares my passion for community journalism and commitment to lively discourse on the Opinion pages, which she will now manage.

As for me, after Friday, I will move from the newsroom to join the ranks of loyal readers and seek different ways to stay engaged with our community.

Stanley Moulton, of Northampton, is retiring after 42½ years as a reporter and editor at the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

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