Editor’s column: Recording the first rough draft of history

  • HighBrow Wood Fired Kitchen + Bar has replaced Pizzeria Paradiso in downtown Northampton. John Rivera paints the building, Sept. 5, 2019. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Published: 12/30/2019 3:37:47 PM

Dear readers,

We hope you enjoy this look back at some of the stories the Gazette reported in 2019. For editors, choosing the “stories that lingered” was one of our easiest and toughest assignments of the year. Easy because some of us knew instantly which ones we would highlight; tough because it was difficult to choose only a few.

That’s why I want to use this column to spotlight some of the other memorable stories — many of them illustrated by original, memorable photos — that have appeared in these pages over the past year.

Some not only linger, but they continue to unfold. Over the summer, Michael Connors spent several weeks reporting on changes in downtown Northampton, as a string of businesses closed and a new recreational pot industry grew. In our three-day series, “The Soul of Downtown,” we took the pulse of a city in transition, raising the public’s concerns, airing the complaints of business owners, and examining the impact of rents and vacant storefronts on the perception of Main Street and beyond. The series was so popular with readers, it inspired a town hall-style event about the future of downtown attended by business owners, members of the public and the mayor.

Another reader favorite was our series on how climate change affects local cities and towns, part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen media coverage about the issue. As staff writers Dusty Christensen and Greta Jochem explained in their introductory column, “The climate crisis deserves more focus than just the occasional headline.” Over the course of the week, we published stories about the region’s biggest polluters, how local farmers are grappling with unpredictable weather patterns, how area schools and colleges are teaching about climate change, and what a Green New Deal would look like in the Pioneer Valley.

On the subject of legislation, last year we also subscribed to State House News Service and Beacon Hill Roll Call to make sure that you, our readers, are as up to date as possible on what’s happening at the state level in Boston — we ran articles about everything from Massachusetts’ much-discussed school funding formula to Jo Comerford’s gender-neutral ID bill to the statewide vaping ban. Whenever possible, we also published your lawmakers’ votes.

The Gazette takes seriously its role as a civic watchdog for public officials. In July, we obtained statements of financial interest from local legislators, revealing, among other findings, investments in fossil fuel and pharmaceutical companies with ties to lobbyists on Beacon Hill. Through public records requests, we learned that several municipalities had bought materials and products from the state prison-labor program, MassCor. And, in the beginning of 2019, we got tipped off about an interesting legal story. As staff writer Bera Dunau reported, a judge had received a letter from the first assistant district attorney who accused a fellow lawyer of threatening a police officer; he later apologized to the lawyer and took the statement back.

We’re grateful to live in a community where citizens are so engaged, and no one illustrated that spirit more than Julian Hynes, a middle schooler who loves municipal government and is the subject of Scott Merzbach’s profile, “Teen wonk.” At 13, the Amherst resident became a regular, vocal presence at Town Council meetings, speaking up about what his generation would like to see happen in Amherst, whether that be improved sidewalks or more affordable housing.

While some of our coverage gazed forward, other articles glanced back, like Greta Jochem’s fascinating history of the legend of “Lesbianville” and how Northampton got that nickname.

Jacquelyn Voghel remembered a local literary legend, Richard Todd, who died in April, with a moving story about his life and legacy.

And our features team reported on the Valley’s vibrant arts, culture and food scenes with articles about Northampton-based “genius” Ocean Vuong; the Atlantis of western Massachusetts, singer-songwriter Emma Ayres; and the magic of the mix at Gigantic cocktail bar in Easthampton.

Sports coverage increased with the addition of a new reporter to the team, Gage Nutter, and the Gazette’s expansion into Holyoke. (Look for that department’s top 10 moments in high school sports this Wednesday.)

Back in September, we announced that we would be covering the Paper City, which is teeming with important stories to tell. We also debuted a new nameplate illustrated by Easthampton artist Bob Marstall.

All in all, 2019 has been a big year at the Gazette, which, amid industry challenges, persists as the Valley’s paper of record and continues to write our region’s first rough draft of history.

At this point, I’d like to respond to an article that appeared in The New York Times shortly before the holidays, “More Than 1 in 5 U.S. Papers Has Closed. This Is the Result.” For the piece, “readers living in communities with newspapers that were shut down or gutted” were invited to tell the Times Reader Center how they had been affected. One respondent, speaking of the Daily Hampshire Gazette (and our competitor, The Republican), stated that we “haven’t shut down yet” but “might as well have closed,” observing that due to staff reductions, “there is little oversight of local government and local businesses.”

Now, there’s a little Elsa in my ear singing, “Let it go, let it go …” But I have to admit, this comment gets to me. The problem is not the opinion of one reader. The problem is that this is the only opinion put forth about the Gazette, and the article is framed in such a way that it is conveyed as fact. Far from being a “gutted” paper, we have a newsroom staff of 26 (part of an operation that employs nearly 100 in total) who doggedly cover local government, business, sports, culture and daily life.

Thank you for reading, and Happy New Year.


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