Hole in the ground…

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.

10 thoughts on “Hole in the ground…

  1. I fear you may be expecting too much from your readership here in Berlin. While many people in Berlin can read, not all of them are bright enough to understand what they are reading. If you've walked around the City lately you'll probably see a lot of adults whose reading comprehension may not rival that of a 10 year old. This is not meant to be insulting to locals, just a statement of fact. So, my advice to you is to continue to do the good reporting that you’ve done lately and learn to develop a thick skin because you'll never escape criticism here in Berlin (or anywhere else), no matter how well you do at reporting. That article about outside money and attempts by LLEG investors to influence the election was fantastic. It is nice to see that kind of reporting here in Berlin and it is about time.

  2. I take exception to the comment that the people here are any more stupid than anywhere else, I think that most people everywhere are just intellectually lazy. TV has made us into a nation of passive and cynical individuals. The jazzed-up sound bites on TV which just bounces from one topic to the other all while we sit there like zombies. Some of us appreciate your efforts Erik, but be prepared for the backlash from those who have forgotten what journalism is all about. One of my favorite sayings is, "Don't confuse me with the facts, my mind is made up". People find comfort in their narrow points of view and they don't appreciate having to think beyond the sound bite or the headline. Congratulations, you're challenging their prejudices and ignorance, not their intelligence.

  3. Since, November of 2006 I've felt the same way Erik. Keep on keeping on. Maybe someday they'll clap if a smokestack falls, a smoke stack smokes, an ATV parade occurs, the city flourishes. The vast majority are waiting for someone else to gain the results. That's why it's wonderful we have people locally willing to gain results such as yourself. You're not alone my friend and you have a very good grasp on the people of the area for an almost flatlander. 😉 Jon

  4. I read the article. Of course I did, it was about me. Mr. Grenier did nothing wrong here. I made the attempt to contact him. Very nice man, had not spoken with him previously.Laidlaw was not involved, whatsoever. It was just a post made on a public message board by myself.I do own Laidlaw common stock. My opinion on what will help Berlin would be the same even if I didn't. It sounds like Mr. Grenier won't accept my contribution. Maybe its for the best. Laidlaw will not be the all-encompassing savior, nor will it be the end-all the Berlin's future. I do feel that it will be a catalyst to grow business interest in Berlin, specifically industry. Note, industry is not always 'dirty' as some with the Mill mentality may think. Have a nice weekend, all.Matthew

  5. I think Mathew deserves credit for coming forward with his post.The term "dirty" is what needs to be explored and expanded to the words dangerous, sustainable, healthy and the terms quality of life and at the expense of what other potential etc. Like carbon dioxide you can't always smell, hear or taste a negative impact. 1.By calculations using Laidlaw data and information a truck needs to come in or out of Berlin every six minutes every day from 5a.m. to 9 p.m. in order to keep the boiler running. Is this clean, is this carbon neutral, and what streets will this impact most?2. Massive cooling towers lying low in a valley with steep streets in close proximity to the west can create serious black icing issues during colder months. Can this be effectively mitigated by the city who's public works department has over 60 miles of roads to contend with? By Laidlaw? How often can black icing occur as a result of these towers? Who'd like to take their chances on Grandview, Hillside, Cedar, Prospect, Church St under conditions that may be difficult to manage?3. City center. Finite wood supply being a given, are two biomass plants that need to be carbon neutral using local wood able to coexist beyond sustainability? If not, which facility has the greatest benefit with the least adverse impact?4. Absence of silos to contain chips can further create fire hazards, dust, smell, additional noise etc. If one company is offering the protection of a silo, why can't another?5. What are the plausible synergies that favorably impact Fraser the most? NH's 2025 initiative needs also to protect existing businesses from rising chip prices and synergies to help reduce costs of doing business otherwise it will be a 2025 failure.6. Which facility, outside of self generated PR statements, proves to have money and a power purchase agreement submitted as needed by law? Jon

  6. 16-October-2009Debra A. HowlandExecutive DirectorNew Hampshire Public Utilities Commission21 South Fruit Street, Suite 10Concord, NH 03301Re: Docket: DE 09-067Dear Ms. Howland,ECM-Eastern Construction Management, LLC respectfully submits this "Motion to Intervene" in the above referenced Docket. In consideration of this matter we offer the following:1.) As a past and future Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH) rate payer we feel PSNH has not acted in the best interest of its rate payers by refusing to enter into negotiations for long term Power Purchase Agreement with renewable energy providers such as Clean Power Development, LLC.2.) As a supposed non-competitive entity as required by statue, it appears by its refusal to consider the purchase of energy from renewable providers, that is(PSNH) is acting as a competitive organization.3.) As a Construction Management firm ECM has clients (schools, manufacturing facilities, municipal facilities, health care facilities) that are depending on the synergies offered by the Clean Power Development project. Public Service of New Hampshire's refusal to negotiate a purchase agreement with CPD will likely delay or halt the progress of the CPD project. If this is allowed to occur it would seriously impact the expansion of the aforementioned facilities, thus gravely impacting the business success of ECM.4.) By refusing to purchase power from a renewable environmentally sustainable energy provider who has offered a 5% lower rate than that of other providers PSNH has displayed a disregard and is in violation of RSA 362-F:1 as well as RSA 378:37 and RSA 378:38.5.) PSNH has acted in a discriminatory and unethical fashion by considering negotiating a Power Purchase Agreementwith a prospective energy provider (Laidlaw) that intends to over-consume the available forest resources and disregards published biomass fuel availability reports.6.) If the Public Utilities Commission capitulates the PSNH and Laidlaw plan it would result in a substantial increase in wood chip fuel prices. This increase would have a detrimental effect on the regional economy, likely forcing the closure of existing biomass power facilities in surrounding communities, resulting in substantial job loss for a region that is already suffering a borderline depression.Respectfully Submitted,Christopher H. Hodge, PresidentECM-Eastern Construction Management, LLChttp://www.easternconstructionmanagement.com/Posted by: jon | October 17, 2009 at 01:01 PMThis is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.Working…Your comment could not be posted. Error type:Your comment has been posted. Post another commentThe letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.Working…Post a commentComment below or sign in with TypePad Facebook Twitter and more…You are currently signed in as (nobody). Sign Out(URLs automatically linked.)Your Information(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)Name is required to post a commentPlease enter a valid email addressInvalid URLWorking…

  7. Erik, you are doing it right. Just continue to report all the facts. That is all we can ask. If someone does not like it or agree with it, that is not your problem. Never compromise the search for truth for fear of criticism. Berlin is counting on you right now. Berlin needs you right now. To quote your story last Wednesday, “He said at first he would be comfortable taking money from individuals not from the area. "I wouldn't see anything wrong with it as long as there is a local tie," he said. But after some thought he said he would not be comfortable taking money from outside the city.”You report, let your readers decide. My follow up question is, what changed his mind?How does that saying go…. “Insanity is repeating the same thing over and over expecting a different outcome”. It is clear there are some in Berlin who believe the good old days can be once again. All Berlin needs to do is embrace anything that resembles the paper mill. They believe Laidlaw is the first step to bringing back Berlin’s industrial base. That’s all well and good, but in today’s world people know better then to put heavy industry in the middle of a community. That’s not how it works anymore. The way I see it, Berlin didn’t lose a mill, it gained a once in a lifetime opportunity. It is what it is. With the mill closing Berlin was given a chance few communities ever get, a chance to reinvent itself. Not abandon it’s history, but seize the opportunity to take advantage of Berlin’s true assets. Show me one community that would turn its nose at a chance to open up 120 acres in the middle of their downtown with some of the most incredible views in New England. And I will show you a community that is willing to sell its soul to corporate America. And we have all seen recently how great stewards of the American dream corporate America is. The thinking in Berlin must change and there are clear signs it has. It started 2 years ago with the last election. It will be interesting to see if the residents of Berlin want to continue on the path of change, or try to revert back to something that no longer exists. I hope collectively we are not insane.

  8. Really great insight to the issues and the importance of local reporting right now, Tim.I especially like, "My follow up question is, what changed his mind?"The very fact that Erik is becoming known and active as an investigative reporter may have helped to create that change in his mind directly in the middle of an interview which allowed the local world to see and make judgment. It also certainly impacted the playing field of money apparently. Jon

  9. “It also certainly impacted the playing field of money apparently.”But to what degree? I only hope it has not gone beyond a few exuberant non-resident Laidlaw stockholders who want to support their candidate of choice. But I am concerned there is a chance it already has. We may never know for sure, but corruption in corporate America has a well-documented history of buying what and whom they want. Small communities like Berlin NH are not immune and have experienced it first hand. They have been left to deal with the fallout that is corporate greed disguised as a community’s best interest. Which reminds me of another quote; “Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me”

  10. Nice posts Tim. I couldn't agree with you more. Unfortunately the collective ignorance of Berlin may elect Mr. Grenier and we'll be taking a major step back wards. LLEG/PSNH will have their cronies in City hall and nobody will be standing up for the rights of the citizens of this City. That would really be shameful.

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