Gazette expands coverage to Holyoke, among other changes

  • A pedestrian passes by Holyoke City Hall on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Bonnie Spencer and her granddaughter Tanner Abolin, 4, of Hampton Ponds, pass by the hydrangeas on High Street in front of Holyoke City Hall. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Pedestrians cross High Street in front of Holyoke City Hall on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • A pedestrian crosses High Street in front of Holyoke City Hall on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Holyoke City Hall, photographed from High Street on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Holyoke City Hall, photographed from the corner of Dwight and High Streets on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Looking out onto High Street from Holyoke City Hall, photographed on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Holyoke City Hall, photographed from High Street on Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Publisher and Editor in Chief
Published: 9/15/2019 11:59:46 PM

We won’t bury the lede: Starting next month, the Daily Hampshire Gazette will be covering Holyoke as a regular beat. We will also be opening up home delivery to reach as many residents as possible with this exciting news.

Why Holyoke? Because if New York City is the land of 8 million stories, as they say, the Paper City is home to at least 40,358 stories, according to the last census count. And for too long, too many of those stories have gone untold.

Holyoke did have a vital daily newspaper once: the Holyoke Transcript-Telegram, or T-T, as it was commonly known. The city’s paper of record for over 100 years, the T-T was a daily source of information about political, civic and social life that residents relied on — until, amid financial pressures, its owner, Newspapers of New England, shuttered the publication in 1993. The Springfield Republican opened a bureau there, but it closed in 2009. The loss of the T-T is still felt today.

Nearly 20 years after the T-T ceased publication, CommonWealth magazine ran an excellent piece — “What happens when a community loses its newspaper?” — looking back at the paper’s history. “In Holyoke babies have been born, raised and sent off to college or war or other adult responsibilities without ever seeing their names in a T-T article taped to a refrigerator,” wrote Tom Fiedler. “Thousands of local deaths weren’t recorded in obituary pages. Congressmen, mayors, and city councilors have been elected, served, and retired without knowing a hometown daily’s beat reporter. In short, all the fundamentals of civic life have continued as before, but, like ghosts, they’ve left no trace of their passage.”

It sounds a lot like a news desert, a growing problem in the United States, where we’ve lost almost 1,800 newspapers — that’s nearly 1 in 5 — in the past 15 years, according to research by Penelope Muse Abernathy, Knight Chair in Journalism and Digital Media Economics at the University of North Carolina, and author of the 2018 report, “The Expanding News Desert.”

While Holyoke is not a news desert — the Republican and continue to report on the city, as do the weekly the Holyoke Sun (which started in 1995) and the bilingual monthly El Sol Latino — it’s certainly an area that is deserving of and needing more news coverage, a point to which several Gazette employees who live there can attest.

Access to journalism is a social justice issue, one that is being addressed right now by state lawmakers who are pushing for the Legislature to support local journalism in a bill titled “an act establishing a commission to study journalism in underserved communities.” The bill recognizes the importance of a local newspaper in providing essential information to residents and holding those in power accountable.

We have big ambitions for Holyoke, which has big ambitions for itself. We will report on and deliver the news you want to know about Mayor Alex Morse’s challenge to U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, D-Springfield, for his seat in the 1st Congressional District; about plans for a new Amazon distribution center; and about the steps the city is taking to combat climate change and the opioid crisis, among other stories.

That said, change doesn’t happen all at once. We are starting with one dedicated Holyoke beat reporter who will cover news, politics, education and the stories readers care about most on a daily basis. All of our reporters and photographers will support and enhance that coverage. “Holyoke is a diverse, complex and fascinating city,” says Managing Editor Dan Crowley. “We plan to do our very best in reporting on the most important news of the day, but also digging under the surface and shining a light on the city and its people.”

In addition, our sports and features teams will highlight the best of what the city has to offer.

“The sports staff is eager to jump in and provide the readers with stories from this vast athletic scene,” says Sports Editor Mike Moran, “offering a deep lineup from the youth level through the successful Valley Blue Sox baseball team.”

“Holyoke is also home to arts organizations like Gateway City Arts, family institutions like the Holyoke Children’s Museum and the Holyoke Merry-Go-Round, and health communities around institutions such as the Holyoke Medical Center,” says Features Editor Dave Eisenstadter. “We look forward to reporting on the lives, livelihoods and culture of the more than 40,000 people who live there, nearly half of whom are of Puerto Rican descent.”

We hope the people who live in, work in and care about Holyoke will submit pieces to our Opinion page, including columns and letters to the editor, illuminating us and our readership. We also invite readers to share event listings in our regional calendar and to submit obituaries and other announcements.

New beats

Since the summer, we have been meeting regularly with several editors — including those heading the news, photo, features and sports departments — to identify ways we can improve the structure of our newsroom and strengthen our coverage. These “visioning committee” meetings have inspired a lot of discussion, healthy debate and a number of changes, including some new beat assignments.

As we expand our coverage into Holyoke, Dusty Christensen will be taking the lead as the city beat reporter, while continuing his investigative work.

Christensen, who speaks Spanish, has been covering higher education — including the saga of Hampshire College — and says, in covering the Paper City, he is “excited to hold powerful people accountable on a new beat and to be an additional watchdog, an ear and a voice, for the community.”

Jacquelyn Voghel is our new higher education reporter, whose beat will include the Five Colleges and Holyoke Community College. She will continue to cover South Hadley.

Michael Connors is our courts and law enforcement reporter.

Bera Dunau is our beat reporter for Easthampton, Westhampton and Southampton.

Greta Jochem is our beat reporter for Northampton. She also has a new LGBTQ sub-beat.

Scott Merzbach will continue as our beat reporter for Amherst, Hadley and Hatfield.

Fran Ryan will remain a correspondent for the Hilltowns, and we will also have a correspondent for Belchertown and Granby.

All reporters covering cities and towns will include schools as part of their beats.

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