I went to a presentation by the New Hampshire Press Association on Thursday where presenters talked to high school students about what it means to be a reporter. There were representatives from a number of northern New Hampshire papers, including both Berlin papers, and people from the southern part of the state.
The reporters from the southern part of the state talked about a newsroom with three full-time photographers, and assignment editors, copy editors, firewalls between the advertising side of the industry and tens of thousands of subscribers.
Berlin isn’t like that. Northern New Hampshire isn’t like that. The owner of the News and Sentinel spoke; she is both the editor and the publisher of that paper. At the Reporter I am the only full-time person—the sports reporter is part-time and the editor and other reporters are shared with the Democrat. At the daily the managing editor is a part-time position.
Whatever the role of journalism in a society, its capacity is only so great as its infrastructure. At every city meeting I wonder what would happen if there was no press there. Most members of the public don’t attend council meetings, much less the sub-committees and various boards. I certainly can’t cover all of them, but between the two papers in Berlin someone is usually at every meeting.
What happens if that falls apart? Every paper seems to be struggling. Even the Conway version of the daily is down from six days a week to five. The public is protected by a broken business model, and there is nothing on the horizon to fix or replace it.
If you think most public officials are crooks, this may be a problem for you. If, however, you’re generally a trusting person then this isn’t a big deal. But with scandals being broken daily (or even monthly or yearly on a local basis) it might be disastrous to do without.
I have to admit, the solution isn’t easy. It is like engaging residents of Berlin to civic participation. My job would be less important if every Monday the aisles were full in city hall. Instead of my translation people would have heard it for themselves.
But at the same time those people would need a fact-checker. The public system currently in place was meant to be run with a vigorous press, but in Berlin now there are already strains on that system. It seems absurd that some day that press may dissolve completely, but without a business model what have you got?
I was talking to a friend at the program on Thursday who said he’d like to start a North Country non-profit dedicated to reporting on the region’s issues. I wonder how that would work, be received, or survive. I wonder if people see enough value in journalism to give to it. I cherish NHPR News, which is a big reason why I give to that organization, but their commitment to reporting is limited in scope. Would another venue have a longer reach?
There are a lot of issues in Berlin right now, many of them quite important. But there is also a distinct lack of resources. Three reporters for a city, working for different publications, is a small crew for a place with as much going on as Berlin. I also wonder if most citizens would call themselves engaged, or if they are simply letting Berlin run itself.
It’s one more strain on an already strained city. This one, however, I don’t see the path out from.

One thought on “J–Time

  1. I share your concerns Erik. Our form of government requires a free press. If I had to take a guess, I believe that some form of electronic journalism will emerge from the ruins. I have a subscription to the electronic The Berlin Reporter and I'm quite pleased with that. I often visit the electronic The Berlin Daily Sun, but they often have technical problems which in my case freezes my computer. Without an active press I fear what would happen to the political process as a whole, how would we form our decisions about issues?

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