Positivity Projects and Researching Stories

I’ve been deep in Northern New Hampshire lately. Deep enough I almost got lost.

I love covering Berlin and the surrounding communities. It is such a switch from working in other communities, where people barely recognize you the third time you meet them and pedestrians walk down the street with a thousand mile stare.

Coös County deserves better—that’s what a candidate for Gorham selectman told me the other day. I agree, but I’m not sure there is someone to blame for its failings. The industry that supported the community went into decline 40 years ago, and what’s left is the shell that is there now.

But it isn’t just a shell. Berlin and Coös are down, but they aren’t out. My reporting has worked to do two things: inform residents about critical issues and highlight the positive. But there are so many critical issues sometimes it overwhelms my reporting. As I’ve said before, there ought to be a dozen reporters covering just Berlin/Gorham, and then maybe all the news that’s fit to print would get out there.

I’m looking into a side project that might get a bit more of that positive coverage out there. It sounds great to me if I can get it together, and it would create a bit more of the type of stories people always say are missing from the paper. (Honestly, they aren’t missing, but people notice the negative stories and glance over the positive ones. Oh well.)

The future of Berlin, and maybe the region in its entirety, are at a crossroads. What happens if the Fraser mill shuts down? If Groveton doesn’t find something to subsist on? If the economy continues to decline throughout the region? What happens then?

I don’t see that as Coös’ future, however. There are more good developments around the region than bad ones, and the attitude is changing to one of progress. I will admit there are divides in how to move forward, but there is no one who doesn’t look at the current situation and see it as untenable. So what’s next? How can the region stop talking and start moving.

I first thought Roger Brooks was selling a monorail in Springfield (check your Simpson’s trivia if you missed the reference). After listening to him, however, it is clear he knows what he’s talking about. He said the business community needs to take its future into its own hands instead of relying on politicians to do something. After watching the pitched battle that was Berlin’s municipal election, and as I prepare for town meeting day, I couldn’t agree more. Coös residents have to create their own solutions, not just complain about their problems.

And they are. Steve Binette and his family are buying the former Bartlett School to turn into student housing. Talk about members of the community pitching in to resurrect the city. This is exactly the effort the city needs.

I’m working on a project of a similar scale. It will lock me into the region for quite a while, if it happens, and point my energy more directly at changing people’s minds about the county. It would be aimed outside the region, however, rather than in.

If you’re concerned that means I might be leaving the Reporter don’t worry; I have no intention of giving up my fabulous job. I have yet to figure out how this will all work (if it can), but I love the reporting I am currently doing. Think of the project as an expanded, targeted LPJ blog, but with only the good and none of the bad. Normally I would call such a thing Public Relations (shutter), but when the goal is community revitalization and development I can relax the rhetoric. It would basically be finding all the stories I can that are the gems of Coös County, and pooling them in one place. I’m not sure how it will work, but it’s an interesting idea.

In the meantime, there is a lot of political maneuvering and such going on, particularly in reference to energy. There are stories there that aren’t positive or negative but certainly need to be told. I don’t intend to slack off my reporting of those issues. The PSNH/FERC story was a great find, one for which I got several compliments, but that type of reporting is HARD TO SUPPORT. There aren’t the resources around the North Country to consistently do it. Heck, there aren’t the resources around the state or even country to consistently do it. I like that type of research, but I also have to cover every other thing going on in the community, and it takes time. The daily paper runs into the same problems. When it comes to the failures in reporting around the region it isn’t the fault of the reporters; it has more to do with the economic model newspapers are predicated on. Paper just isn’t made in the U.S. anymore, and newspapers just can’t sustain a real staff anymore. Luckily the reporters around Berlin care as much as they do, and they have the support they do from their editors, because otherwise the outlook would be incredibly bleak. Until there is a new model discovered/created/invented it isn’t going to get much better. For now, however, I know the people doing the work up there are doing the best they can with inadequate resources. Sounds like the rest of the region, huh? But like everything else up there, what people get for the money spent is pretty remarkable. Berlin and Coös County aren’t broken; they have a future yet. The papers, both the daily and the Reporter, are going to be more than part of that future—they will be critical drivers of it.

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