More, but Lighter

Here is another look at informing the public, this time from the New York Times:

It’s an interesting model, and they urge people to become involved in local government. They are supporting democracy, using marksmanship as “a hook.”
I don’t have much to add, but this fit with the early post about involving people in democracy and connecting them to the realities of the larger world. Is it a conservative movement? The video implies it but doesn’t explicitly state it. But the program encourages civic participation, even if it has partisan leanings. It’s hard to criticize that.

The Real Thing

Someone posted this as an example of excellent coverage of the Afghanistan war. A brief warning: it’s not for the feint of heart.

This is more combat than I have any real desire to be in, but it illustrates a point I made earlier—more information is better. It’s a hard look at the reality the United States and its partners face around Afghanistan, where today the New York Times reported three U.S. soldiers were killed.

It’s interesting the limited capacity for war the American people have, particularly with two simultaneous conflicts going on. When Iraq was melting into sectarian violence no one asked about Afghanistan. Now it’s Afghanistan, formerly America’s “Forgotten War,” that is erupting into violence. The techniques—improvised explosive devices and suicide bombs—have been imported from Iraq, as have the casualties, which just climbed above 2,000.

This type of reporting is invaluable. It connects the viewer at home with the soldier on the field. U.S. and British citizens (the Guardian is a U.K. paper) can begin to understand what the war in Afghanistan looks like, and they can decide what level of importance they should place on foreign policy when they go to the voting booth.

Will it hurt or help the war effort? I’m not sure. No one wants to see young American soldiers die, but it’s more a matter of your view of the threats posed by a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan. Would it lead to more terrorist attacks, and is the current strategy affecting it? Those questions aren’t answered by the reporter in the field. They are hopefully addressed by reporters back home consulting with specialists and experts. But the reporter in the field gives context. They make it clear just what those decisions mean, on the ground, for one soldier and one family. They aren’t policies in a vacuum, and it takes people broadcasting or filing from the field to make the true impacts clear.

I’m still waiting to find out if that’s something I’ll be doing, but regardless I think it’s important when someone does it well, from a perspective rarely seen, to share it. This video is intimidating, but it brings reality home.

The Trouble for Candidates

I tagged along with U.S. Senate hopeful Kelly Ayotte today as she toured Isaacson Structural Steel, Inc., with Berlin native Steve Griffin. She shook hands all around and introduced herself to as many people as she could. I asked her if she felt this sort of thing really improves her chances in this fall’s election. “It’s the New Hampshire way,” she said, every connection she makes today will hopefully influence the votes of family members, friends, neighbors.

Mr. Griffin acknowledged Berlin traditionally votes Democratic. He attributed it to the city’s union influence. (ISSI is a non-union shop, he said.) But as Mrs. Ayotte toured she heard criticism, even from registered Republicans. One man held her up for several minutes to criticize how every politician gets to Washington D.C., regardless of party, and gets consumed by the political dance. What makes you any different? he asked.

Honestly, he was facing me and she was facing away, so I heard his questions but not her response. But I did snap one photo that illustrates the rift between Berlin and Washington:

The crisp pink of Mrs. Ayotte’s blazer contrasts the tee shirt and jean, dirty hands approach of a ISSI worker. She never shied away from shaking a single man’s dirty hand on the floor (the were all men), and she said her hands were used to the dirt from her husband’s landscaping business. Still, there are few Democrats or Republicans that can match Berlin’s blue collar ethic. I thought this picture portrayed that nicely. I’m interested to she how she fares in the primary, and if she makes it, the general election in November.

If you want to know where she stands on the issues, check out next week’s Reporter.

Time to Wait

So on Monday night, after council and typing up my story, I pulled together the last parts of my application to the international coalition that oversees reporter embeds in Iraq, and I sent it in.

I sent an application in, along with samples of my work, a copy of my passport, a head shot, and a letter from NHPR saying they were sponsoring me. Now I wait to hear back.

It’s a crazy idea, right? Going to a war zone is something of a tradition for reporters, but it doesn’t make it smart. If I go I’ve got to get body armor, so I’ve been shopping around for armor piercing plates and accessories to keep me safe. It’s a little disconcerting to see how many places you can still get shot, but some other reporters assured me things were settled in Iraq.

I’m hoping to embed with the 94th Military Police Company, a reserve unit out of Londonderry. I’m no soldier, and I have no real desire to see war, but the impact media can have on foreign policy and conflict is huge, and I think it’s important people hear what is happening.

Mostly I want to tell New Hampshire residents what their soldiers are doing in Iraq. The war has been winding down there for some time, and most media are focused on Afghanistan. But New Hampshire has a company of soldiers in Iraq, and their service shouldn’t be forgotten.

It’s a little difficult to wrap my head around, what it’ll be like, but it’ll certainly be an adventure. I spoke to a friend who spent 15 months in Iraq as an officer in the army, and he told me he could write a book about his experiences. As a New Hampshire resident and a non-military household, I don’t have frequent reminders about the conflict, or that people are still filling books with bad experiences. As members of a democratic nation, that’s a luxury I shouldn’t be allowed. Our votes affect these decisions and policies, and we shouldn’t make them uninformed.

Granted, my little excursion, should it happen, won’t likely shift voters in one direction or another. Nor should it. But it may add to their knowledge about what their fellow citizens are doing, and when joined with the rest of the reporting from the region create a little bit more complete picture. No reporter is “the media,” but hopefully collectively we can pull together enough vignettes to help people make informed decisions about governance. That’s why the press is protected by they first amendment.

And I get to do it in Berlin, on one scale. Reporting for NHPR is doing the same thing, on another scale. It gets interesting, however, when it’s national and international issues you’re talking about.

So I got an email back from the USF–I (U.S. Forces – Iraq) today, saying they received my application and will get back to me soon. I’m heading to Peru in less than a week to climb mountains, so hopefully they’ll let me know before I go. Then I’ve got to secure a flak jacket and helmet and figure out to fly to Kuwait. It’s an interesting proposition, being a reporter, but I can’t complain it ever gets boring.

Planning and Development

Zoning has been big news in Berlin recently, with the council working to amend the zoning ordinance to deal with non-conforming lots. The council screwed up by rushing the effort. They had to redo it the other night, which pushes the time-line of at least one project back another couple weeks, but they are moving forward still, with the goal to make it easier to start and run a business in Berlin.

There are members of the planning board, however, who don’t favor relaxing the standards. The city should get rid of non-conforming lots over time, they argue, and the way to do that is by restricting their use.

I’m no urban planner, but both sides of the debate have merits. Berlin needs development. The city is in no position to turn away people looking to invest. But the city needs investors willing to do things right, on the other hand. All the slumlords in the world don’t help revive the housing market, for example.

I watched this talk recently about redevelopment of suburban areas that had been abandoned, and parts of it echoed the challenges in Berlin.

Planning and zoning are such interesting tools for development, and at the same time complex. The city needs to consider carefully how to implement them. What does it mean to make this change? Hopefully it creates real opportunity in the city, like jobs, taxes and growth in the near future. In the end, two weeks doesn’t matter.


After a bunch of work between meetings today (I spent a long time waiting for calls back that never came) I pulled together a new banner for the website. It’s more generic, but clean.

I’ve got a couple freelance proposals out there that I’m hoping to take advantage of, so I’ve been trying to spruce up the site. I never fully finished it when I originally launched it, so now I’m trying to do that.

I’ve got a pitch in with a magazine to do a story on the Peru trip I have scheduled for August. A police officer asked if I was going to write something for the Reporter about it, but I just don’t see how I can make the connection.

For that pitch I updated my resume, which is up on the site as well. It’s important to be seen, I guess, when you’re telling companies you write.

Anyway, I’ve got 300 words to write about tonight’s council meeting, so I’ve got to get going on that. I love the weeks I totally botch my word count estimate for council. The agenda was short, but now I’ve got 1,000 words I’ve got to cram into a couple paragraphs. Awesome. It will go quickly, I imagine.

Full Plate

It’s the end of my week, and already I’m looking at four stories. Each one is “major,” in that each one is worth at least a day of my time. When it comes to issues like the Fraser mill, slumlords in Berlin, Clean Power, Laidlaw and PSNH, or any of the development opportunities the city is looking at, each one should get at least a solid eight hours. Think about it: I’ve got to talk to a bunch of people, digest and understand it all (sometimes starting from no knowledge) and explain it to readers.

Sometimes there just isn’t the time. These four stories are all going to happen, to be sure, but never with the depth and breadth I’d like.

In a city of this size it’s remarkable there are two papers at all, particularly considering the economic conditions. I have to guess a big part of why the Reporter is able to function is because the only real expense is me. Without an office, and by sharing administration with the Democrat, the paper avoids racking up large expenses. It’s essentially my salary and mileage.

But four more reporters would be awesome, wouldn’t it? I often make a call on one story, receive a call on another and get an email about a third in a matter of minutes. Multiply that by every day of every week and you’ll understand my week. I love it.

But the city needs more coverage. It needs more people asking questions. I hate to drop stories because I don’t have the resources, but it undoubtedly happens. Luckily there is another paper able to pick up the slack, but even between the two papers there are only three reporters. Not exactly a fleet.

I’m noticing, however, that I’m starting to understand things here a little better. I’m starting to know where to poke and prod to get some interesting stories. My year plus here is starting to pay off with enough institutional knowledge and personal connections to put pieces together.

I’ve been reading that one of the challenges of modern journalism is that too many reporters spend a year or two in a place and then move on, and they take their knowledge and connections with them. I understand that perspective better now, as stories are starting to grow out of those relationships.

Berlin needs those types of reporters, those with ties to the community. Without an office, however, that will be hard for the Reporter to achieve. I work out of the community college–not exactly the center of the city. With no permanent presence in Berlin, the Reporter loses out. As the reporter, I lose out. No one can drop in to drop off a tip. People need my email or phone number to make something happen.

How do you balance community connections with budgets? Beats me. I just keep running with my full plate and hope I can work fast enough for the residents of Berlin.

Speaking of, I think my phone is ringing.

Week Beginning…

And ending.

It’s always funny to me how my deadline is Monday morning. Tomorrow I’ve got the council meeting and the police log to do, but otherwise if it’s a quiet day I just finished my work week. (Only sort of, but it feels that way.)

This week is good. Real good. I got to delve into the CPD/Laidlaw issue as it pertains to the Coös County Commissioners. It’s quite a story, I think, definitely worth reading.

On top of that, I had a good discussion with the folks the New England Forest Rally about why they decided to uproot and go to Errol. It’s an interesting perspective on how Berlin works with people looking to make things happen. It’s not a glowing review, but maybe the city can learn from it.

I also hung out with Charlie Bass for a little while when he came through town to reconnect with voters. Politics is funny: he railed against earmarks, but then he said he tried to bring whatever he could back to New Hampshire. That’s his job, but the about-face is interesting to watch.

I was talking with Councilor McCue about politics just the other day. He mentioned being one of two conservatives in his left-leaning family. I’m luckier—I’m unaffiliated. I try to get honest answers out of both sides, which is tougher than picking one or the other.

I got a great response offline to my comments about dedensifying the city, and then a few day later I heard a story on Marketplace about a related topic. There are city eliminating highways, and they wind up with less congested cities. Planners thought it would create chaos, but instead it disperses traffic and supports local businesses. It’s an argument perfect to combat those people who want to see a highway to Berlin. Why? To route shoppers away from the downtown merchants?

OK, it’s late, I’m done my week (but not). I’m going to get to sleep so I’m not yawning when I get to the police department in the morning. And hopefully nothing has happened that will require scrambling tomorrow morning (did I just jinx myself?).

Busy Weekend

I just got back from the ATV festival, which certainly brought a crowd to the region. Estimates ranged, but I heard as many as 700 people yesterday, 900 today. I’m not sure if that’s accurate, but there were certainly a lot of people enjoying the trails, the mud pit, the demo rides and the helicopter tours.

I also stopped by Mayor Grenier’s house to get an update on the Fraser mill. He’s hoping a plan will move forward that can save the 240 jobs, though the project has hit a snag. I’ve been hearing a lot of rumors that suggest it’s dead in the water, but no definitive proof one way or the other. It’s a big deal, 240 jobs, and hopefully something good will be announced soon.

I saw a post on Facebook this morning about how the farmers’ market is the only bright spot in Berlin’s otherwise bleak economic picture. It was from a local merchant, who said she’d seen too many $0 days. She implored residents to shop local, to support Main Street businesses so they don’t all go the way of JC Penney. That heartfelt plea is ubiquitous, but it seems to fall on deaf ears. Walmart never has a lack of customers, even when Main Street does. But it is encouraging what impact an event like market can have. It livens the downtown and brings people out in a way no other Berlin event I’ve seen does. Too many events are after closing time, so people can’t go in and support local merchants.

But what a distance a little ingenuity goes. How much could WREN have spent on this project? I’m sure not much. And yet it has an impact. Thank goodness they took the plunge, but why does it take a group from away to make these things happen. There is creativity and spirit in Berlin. The city just has to figure out how to put it to work.

I’m about to launch into a bit of writing for this week’s paper, but I wanted to post some images from the weekend. I went to the coast of Maine to visit my wife’s family, and when we left we happened upon a fantastic sunset.

Not bad, although it’s no sunset in the mountains.

Summer Rain

It’s pouring out, for the first time in weeks. The 90 plus degree temperatures of the last 10 days made everyone lethargic, me included, and this reprieve is a blessing.

But in that time, aside from some interesting developments in Berlin and Coös County, I’ve unearthed some interesting opportunities as well.

First, I’m headed to Peru for three weeks in August for vacation. The trip was originally going to be a fun/climbing trip, but now I might be profiling the area I’m going to for Climbing Magazine. I’m going to go, shoot photos and write something up, and they’ll possibly buy it on spec.

Second, I’m trying to embed with the 94th Military Police Company, out of Londonderry, this fall. They are going to Iraq to train security forces, and I’m going to go to tell New Hampshire what their soldiers are doing in the war zone. I am currently looking for angles on this, but it should be an interesting project.

And then additionally there is all that is going on in my coverage area. I’ve been hearing rumors about the Fraser mill sale, but nothing I can put into print yet. And the city is finding out just what ATV do for business this weekend—it’ll be interesting to see if the festival has a real impact on non-ATV-centric stores. Broadband will be getting a major boost from a $44.5 million federal grant, and the struggle for biomass continues. There is never a shortage of stuff going on.

The other day all the staff at work had a meeting—my editor and the reporters from the Democrat—the first of its kind. We bounced stories off of each other and discussed angles. It was a great discussion, because we generated ideas not one of us would have come up with alone. It made me realize how much of a handicap it is to work in an office of one. I make the decisions and see things from my perspective, and that perspective rarely gets challenged or questioned. But my perspective isn’t all encompassing, and the Androscoggin Valley would do well to have more viewpoints looking at facts and for stories. We all had ideas for each other that spurred new ideas, and in the end the sum was greater than the whole. As a reporter trying to inform residents that greater sum is invaluable.

I’m hoping we can try it more often, because it gave me some great ideas. My office at WMCC is great, but every once in a while it’s nice to share an office with a colleague.