I wonder if communities really want to know what is going on. Do they have a real interest in journalism that looks past the bake sales and the town events to what is going on behind the scenes?
I am working to raise people’s awareness, or at least access, to what is going on in Berlin. I intend to incorporate video, audio and written reporting on the city, because every bit of openness is more information for people to make decisions from.
People like the idea of openness, just not when they are under the microscope. But it takes an informed citizenry for democracy to work.
I didn’t pick sides, but stories quickly become partisan issues. Last week I spoke to Paul Grenier about receiving money from out of town donations, and I wrote a story that quoted him as saying he would not accept such money. I also called Mayor David Bertrand to ask him the same questions, and I investigated reports he had accepted out of town money in the past. I challenged both candidates because that is what I am supposed to do as a reporter. Both stories appeared in Wednesday’s Reporter.
People didn’t like it. I received complaints and accusations that the stories were sensationalization. It makes me wonder what people would like from their paper. Do they want to become an informed citizenry, or do they want to have their views reinforced?
The big news, to me, was what Laidlaw investors were trying to do. NOT what Laidlaw was trying to do, because they weren’t trying to do anything, and NOT what Mr. Grenier was doing, because he was doing exactly what he should: he said he wouldn’t accept those contributions. So I started the article with what those investors were trying to do, and I included Mr. Grenier’s response that the mayors seat couldn’t be bought.
And yet someone posted on LPJ that Mr. Grenier was basically running for financial gain, while people who side with Mr. Grenier said I’d thrown him under the bus.
Maybe no one reads papers anymore. Maybe they get through the first paragraph and then make up the rest of the story themselves. Maybe they just read the headlines. The story I wrote quoted Mr. Grenier as saying he wouldn’t take money, and it quoted Lou Bravakis as saying Laidlaw hadn’t tried to give money to any candidate. It laid out the facts in a pretty clear way, which may not have made the investors look great, but it pretty clearly absolved Mr. Grenier and Laidlaw from blame.
And there was a story about Mr. Bertrand. No one cared that Mel Liston of Clean Power offered Mayor Bertrand money, which he turned down. Interesting.
I don’t get it. Maybe I need tweak my writing to better focus people’s attention on who they should get mad at. I don’t believe that’s the case, however: if you’re reading a newspaper, you are intelligent enough to make up your own mind. It’s my job to lay out the facts, not to interpret them.
Was it easy to assume Mr. Grenier was at fault for investors’ actions while excusing Mayor Bertrand for Mr. Liston’s offer? Maybe he inspires stronger feelings, and therefore stronger reactions? I don’t know. Did no anyone even make it down the page to the story about Mr. Bertrand?
How about both men acted admirably in the face of attempts by out-of-town groups to influence the election? That’s what I thought the stories said, while highlighting the flagrancy of the Laidlaw investors’ actions, but that’s not what people read. I must be making a mistake in my writing, or I’ve got too high expectations for readers.
I guess it all does come down to Laidlaw. A former reporter said they stayed away from of the issue because people lost all capacity for reason whenever it came up. I learned what that reporter meant for the first time this week. That doesn’t mean I will be anymore delicate about how I report, because I don’t see any other way to get the facts out, but I will be more prepared for criticism and biased comments from both sided.
What are the community’s expectations for openness? How much of this stuff do they want to know? Are they able to make decisions if the facts are before them, or do they need to be spoon-fed their opinions? Judging by the number of people who attend city council each week, people have other concerns than how the city officials are running things. I am not trying to disappoint them by reporting on more than the latest flowerbed renovation. I see in depth coverage as what I’m supposed to do, but maybe I’m disturbing people who just want to be left alone to think the way they want to think. People want to be mad at Mr. Grenier and excuse Mayor Bertrand, without ever making it far enough into the story to see that both men are rare examples of people in Berlin who actually care. Or they want to be mad at me for exposing investors’ actions, without reading far enough to see I never accused either candidate of wrongdoing.
Both men want to do what is best for the city, but they have different views of how to get there. I do not support of oppose either one; I am a referee working to ensure a clean fight. But what people want is to have their opinions supported and a hole in the ground to stick their heads in.