Logic Gap?

I tried something today I thought worked pretty well. It’s something new for LPJ, and I think it will be a great addition to the site. I spend a bunch of time in the car heading back and forth from Glen to Berlin, and now I’ve got a way to put it to better use. Check it out:

I’m putting in two versions to see which people like better as well. One is YouTube and the other is Vimeo.

This is the first installment, I think, but it seems worth continuing. Again, as always, this is my blog, not the Berlin Reporter’s, just for clarity sake, so don’t expect breaking news or a newspaper’s objectivity. I try to be open to both sides, but I’m doing this for fun without an editor looking over my shoulder. Read it for pleasure and feel free to contribute.

I’m looking for a name for the the video segment; if you have any good ideas let me know. I was thinking Logic Gap, because down south notches are called gaps, and I plan to do it over that drive. I am not always logical, but I thought it worked. Let me know your thoughts on the video, which one you like, and your thoughts on the Logic Gap name.


Next Step—NYC

I’m trying to improve and expand my reporting skills and repertoire, so I’ve applied to the John Jay College Center for Media, Crime and Justice Guggenheim Fellowship. I’d go to NYC for a weekend, learn a bunch, then come back and do a big story on something related to police and crime. Here’s my pitch, we’ll see if I get it.

Police departments in post-industrial communities

Berlin, N.H., was devastated by the decline of the paper industry, with economic consequences akin to industrial cities in the Midwest. The streets are lined with boarded up storefronts and burned out buildings, and there were 20 suspicious fires last year. Two weeks ago two men were shot during a home invasion; one died. Officers face challenges usually not associated with a community of 10,000 people in rural New Hampshire; challenges they didn’t face 30 years ago, though the city had double the current population.
I will examine how police departments in cities reeling from industrial collapse react to and combat the rise of violent crime as their cities hollow to shells of their former selves.
This phenomenon isn’t limited to Berlin—Lewiston, Maine, two hours east, is on the same river that supported the same industry. It is going through a similar transition, but the transition phase has become everyday life.
Despite efforts to kick-start their economies, the downward spiral continues. Low property values and an abundance of multi-unit properties have made it profitable for landlords to purchase buildings and turn them into slums. The low cost of living entices poor people to migrate to Berlin, or in Lewiston, African refugees to settle. The cities have been changing rapidly, and longtime residents watched from their porches as the transformation unfolded. The police have watched as well.
They are caught in the middle: remembering the old city, policing the new one. They face problems and situations they are ill equipped to handle, with shrinking budgets, changing demographics and limited support. I will report on what those departments do to make up for the shortcomings, and where and how those efforts are lacking.

Rising Star

Some people think watching city council week after week would be dull; I laugh when I hear that. So much to discussion goes on at those meetings and all the others like them it’s hard to keep up. Tedium simply doesn’t apply. The last meeting in particular there was an impressive level of public input, with probably almost 10 people standing up to speak, and then there were a plethora of topics that I could have written about—unfortunately I only had 750 words.

In the last few weeks one councilor has kept things even more interesting than normal. He has distinguished himself with his willingness to directly confront critics, often with uncommon eloquence and confidence, and to repeatedly hammer on issues important to him. The councilor is David Poulin.

It started at the mayoral debate, when councilors had five minutes open time to address the audience. Councilor Poulin unleashed more talking points in that five minutes than the rest of the room mentioned combined. He may have even conveyed more than the two mayoral candidates, and they had an hour. It was the most fired up I’d seen him in six months of covering council, and it caught me completely unprepared.

Next was the meeting after Councilor Dick Lafleur was to serve as chair but not enough councilors showed up. Councilor Lafleur scolded councilors for missing it, to which Councilor Poulin responded. Clearly perturbed, he maintained his composure and gave it back hard, with a hint of disdain in his voice. It was a strong second performance for a councilor that had before this been pretty uncontroversial. Before this the thing I would have remembered him for was requesting a memorial plaque.

Most recently it was the city seal. Councilor Poulin was the driving force behind removing the stack from the seal, and he continues to point out when the old seal pops up still. The city clerk wrote a memo for Monday’s meeting listing the cost of replacing all iterations of the seal, which came to “$10,000 at a minimum.” Some councilors balked at the price tag, but not Councilor Poulin, who responded with another noteworthy rebuke:
“Why is it such a point of contention to remove the stack? Nobody wants to live in ‘Stinktown.’ I can’t see where pollution should be a poster-boy. There’s going to be expense associated with transforming an image. You’re undermining the actual vote. I can’t support anything but getting rid of this stuff.”
Again, like the first two, no number of quotes do it justice. I’m glad I was there to watch.

Three times now since the end of October I’ve wished I had a video camera while in city hall, and every instance has been to tape Councilor Poulin. He has been an aggressive champion for his views, which he shares freely, even when they go completely against the rest of the group. And unlike many local politicians, he is bullish enough to wield his inclination effectively.

I understand he ran because issues involving the sign at his business on Glen Avenue, but now he’s become an effective spokesperson for progressive change in Berlin. What’s more, unlike other champions of those policies on the council, Councilor Poulin is a Berlin native, which is important to many voters. He mixes laissez-faire economics with a flair for marketing and then speaks when just as the room pauses. Most politicians are better at avoiding questions and employing doublespeak, but he’s comfortable putting his positions on his business card. It makes me look forward to next Monday night.

New York and Beyond

It is getting close to the holidays, which, for my wife and I, means a trip. We get out of town for Christmas instead of try to choose between our five families (two sets of divorced parents and my sister with the only niece and nephew). It works well, but it means I spend the weeks leading up to when we leave frantically trying to get everything done.
That was the story this last weekend: we went to New York to see my wife’s family. That will be the story next weekend, when we take my niece for the weekend to give my sister a break. And then we are headed to Mexico for a few weeks of thermal restoration.
So my LPJ work is likely to be spotty until I get back. Or, if I wind up taking my computer, it might just have a different flavor.

I wanted to get this out there, however, before I get busy again. (Lots going on today. There were several drug related arrests this weekend, and the third person allegedly involved in the home invasion was arrested. Busy day.)
I was in New York, at a birthday party for one of my step-in-laws, when someone asked me what I do. I described working for the paper, and they were interested in Berlin. I described the city as best I could, including its challenges, and several people sat in rapt attention. My description of a pace of life and a world where everyone knows one another obviously uncovered a nostalgia many of the urbanites had worked to bury. I described many of the things I describe on here, and they were amazed such a place still exists.
Berlin has problems: landlords, jobs, drugs, poverty. But it also is so special. I really do think many people in Berlin don’t realize it is because they don’t leave often enough. They don’t spend enough time in the high speed world, where it’s more important to avoid eye contact with a stranger than it is to avoid bumping into them.
I like leaving Berlin, because every time I come back. I drive into a town that feels like it is perpetually waking up, never moving at the full speed of the day. It is a treasure, and when I tell people about it they act I’m talking about Narnia or Atlantis. That pace, which Berlin takes for granted, is what so many people are yearning for. I can’t help but enjoy the fact that I get paid to come up and slow down every day.

Dirty to Clean (or Reborn)

Good signs are spreading through Berlin. The properties at 90 and 92 Main St. were cleaned up with Neighborhood Stabilization Program money. Notre Dame was cleaned up with an EPA Brownfields grant. The property on High Street was cleaned up by the land owner. Berlin has things to smile about. These aren’t the most recent photos by any means, but it’s clear the work has been progressing. Under storm clouds and winter skies it might be hard to recognize, but slowly the city is riding itself of its most decrepit eyesores. Sometimes it just takes someone pointing it out before you notice it.