Editor’s column: A daily miracle, a daily test

  • A copy of the Hampshire Gazette from May 30, 1804. GAZETTE PHOTO

  • Stray sheep, stray cow, stray wife. From the Hampshire Gazette, 1804. GAZETTE PHOTO

Editor in Chief
Published: 2/7/2020 1:59:28 PM

A few weeks ago, an older woman walked into the Gazette newsroom holding two copies of a yellowed newspaper, light as parchment, its name in bold lettering at the top of the front page: HAMPSHIRE GAZETTE.

The dates of the two papers: May 30 and September 12, 1804. Our visitor found them while cleaning out her Easthampton home, she said. She declined to leave her full name or phone number, saying she just thought people might find the history interesting.

What an understatement.

In the newsroom, our staff pored over the copies, sharing images on social media that piqued the interest of many readers who wanted to know more about the contents.

First, some context: That year, incumbent Democratic-Republican President Thomas Jefferson defeated South Carolina’s Federalist Charles Cotesworth Pinckney. The two editions feature, among other analyses (some reprinted from nearby regional papers), a review of the Jefferson administration, an article examining the plight of “The New England Man” in the era’s divisive political landscape, and a plea to “Gentleman of information whether Federal of Democratic” to “pray turn your eyes off from your local or town politics … and take a momentary view of our national situation.”

Considering that readers got all of their news from their local newspapers at the time, it makes sense that these national headlines appear on the front page, along with “foreign intelligence” dispatches from around the globe. But inside, the offerings are closer to home. We found a primer on grafting old apple trees, a scattering of crime stories (“Beware of Counterfeits!” “Murder!”), a poem “Written during a late Storm,” and a classifieds section for those looking to buy or sell a range of items: oak and hemlock bark, wigs, lather boxes, hair powder, playing cards, goods and fashions imported from Europe and India, 500 foreign ox hides, school books, jaundice bitters and itch ointment.

Then there are all of the lost-and-founds: lost pocketbook, stray cow, stray sheep and, my personal favorite, stray wife. As one husband from Hadley wrote: “WHEREAS DEBORAH my wife has eloped from my bed and board, without any just provocation — I therefore forbid all persons harboring or trusting her on my account, as I will pay no debt of her contracting after this date.”

A town subscriber could get the whole world delivered to their door for — wait for it — $1.50 per year. The Gazette also offered a 50-cent price cut of for “subscribers in the neighboring towns where no one person is accountable for the whole class.” This note to readers, on the left-hand corner of the page, was labeled: “Conditions of the Gazette.”

It’s 2020, and the conditions of the Gazette have changed — you can find subscription rates on our website, gazettenet.com — but in the 216 years since, a lot of what we do has stayed the same. We still offer world and national news via the Associated Press, but reporting on local news and life is our priority. That’s why we’ve expanded into Holyoke and invested time and money into covering our Hampshire County cities and towns as closely as possible. We’ve also added some new columnists to our features sections and begun sharing more articles between the Gazette and the Valley Advocate so that readers of both publications get the most out of their reading experience.

But we’ve also had to make some hard decisions recently. This past Thursday, we said farewell to Ken Maiuri’s “Clubland” column, which has run in the Gazette since 1995 and maintained a loyal following since then. Maiuri will still write “Tuned In” for Hampshire Life, but going forward we will be tapping more deeply into the talents of music lovers who are on our staff; they will continue to bring you the best of the local music scene through interviews, profiles, reviews, previews and more.

Also for budgetary reasons, we’ve made other difficult cuts and cutbacks with freelancers. Earlier this week, with a knot in my stomach, I called Jim Bridgman to say we couldn’t run his “A Look Back” column on local history any longer — but within hours, word got out, and fans of the column flooded my email with requests to keep it going. We will. Starting this week, you can also find Bridgman’s look-backs online.

Finances have forced us to reconsider printing and paging as well. Starting Monday, you will notice some differences in layouts, with sections generally being lighter in wire stories (from the AP, etc.), but not in local stories.

There’s an adage that a newspaper is a daily miracle — it’s also a daily test. But nevertheless, you could say, she persists.

The Daily Hampshire Gazette remains a first-rate local newspaper. This past weekend, between the Gazette and the Advocate, we were nominated for 17 awards from the New England Newspaper & Press Association for efforts including our series on Hampshire College in transition, a history of the legend of “Lesbianville,” local election coverage and investigative reporting on decades-old abuse at the Clarke School for the Deaf.

Our reporters, photographers, editors, designers and paginators come to the newsroom every day because we love what we do, and we care about this community.

Please show us that you care, too. Subscribe. If you already do, consider giving the gift of local journalism to a family member or friend. Let’s keep the history going.




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