Someone told me the secret to success: fail harder.
I work for the Berlin Reporter, which, as I’ve been told, used to cover bake sales from Errol to Shelburne. It wasn’t particularly interested in getting into the complex subjects facing Berlin. I have not followed the same approach.
I read an article in the Columbia Journalism Review about how newspapers need to stop just covering events and start covering issues. Berlin is lucky to have two papers, because they can each cover what they’re good at. I am trying to be proficient at covering issues, and I leave many of the events to someone else.
But issues are tough. PSNH, Laidlaw, Clean Power Development, CDBG grants, the Northern Loop, wood studies, revolving loan funds, wind farms, overlay zones, TIGER grants, federal prisons, state retirement benefit programs, and section eight housing are each distinct areas of expertise. Some might argue they are more than one person can hope to handle. Not true; that person just has to be willing to fail harder. And I do. I work for unattainable goals, and, while I haven’t achieved them, I’m gaining.
People are always telling me how to do my job. Not people at the paper, but random people who want a story about their business or me to look into their issue. They aren’t giving me tips, mind you, but telling me what I should cover and how to do it. It makes me wonder how people perceive the paper—do people look at it as a tool for the community, or as their personal dagger to wield?
I walk through Berlin more than many residents. One city councilor said I knew more about many of the city’s issues than he does, and he’s lived there almost his entire life. That isn’t true, because my understanding of Berlin is on a short time-line, but I have done my best to steep myself in the city’s issues. Sometimes at city council or other meetings I want to point out the obvious point everyone seems to be ignoring, but I can’t. I’m the fly on the wall with a bullhorn to sound once a week.
Fail harder—what a great idea. I’m proud of what it’s done for my reporting. What would Berlin look like if everyone gave it their all, without a thought of the consequences? Where would that take the city? The city makes tentative steps toward rebirth, weighed down by people dreading change. What if the city made a leap in one direction, any direction, with all the naysayers silent?
It is easy to fail harder alone. I can report as hard as I want, with reckless abandon for TRUTH, and no one holds me back. People have complimented me for what fail harder has done for the Reporter; I wonder what it would do for Berlin.