North Country Reminiscence

On Marketplace today was a story about broadband Internet and banking that began in Colebrook, and I got an email from the new reporter that will permanently fill my position at the Reporter. A pang of regret hit me each time. I’m not up there full time anymore, and I miss it.

My new position is great, however, and I don’t regret the move. The pace of a daily is a good challenge, as is reporting a new beat with new people. Once life gets fully settled I’m looking forward to getting deeper into the Conway community, where there are surely stories to tell. But I must admit I find myself reminiscing about North of the Notches.

I was talking to a candidate for state senate today, and she called Carroll County the North Country. All of the representatives from the North Country need to band together, she said, because they all have the same challenges. Carroll County is more like Coös County than it is like southern New Hampshire, she said, and they have to stick together.

I told her I didn’t think many people North of the Notches would agree on that point. She agreed—she’d lived there herself. I have to admit, after being let into the club up there, it feels like something special. Most people just don’t understand Coös. I’m not sure I do fully either, but I get enough of it in me that I connect to it.

And I’ve still got things going up there, things that I have to get back to. The story is continuing in the North Country, and though I’m not going to be covering it every day, I don’t want to let it go. Otherwise I’d spend all my time reminiscing.

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Senate Bills and Such

Senate Bill 500 has been a hot topic in the state, and already I’ve written three stories on it in my new job. It deals with parole and release from prison, and what supports the state should provide to people getting released.

SB 500 has exploded in recent weeks because of some of the people it will affect. One of them is a registered sex offender who was out on parole when he assaulted a 16 year old girl.

It’s an interesting discussion, particularly because when the words “sexual predator” come up emotions trump reason. I’ve been told privately by several people they’d like to see sex offenders thrown in jail for life, killed or sterilized. That’s a far cry from an early release with state support to reintroduce them into society.

I’m still looking for facts on this, not just figures, but the discussion really comes down to whether sex offenders are fundamentally different than other criminals, and if their rights under the law are therefore different. What should happen when a sex offender reaches the end of their sentence?

According to the state attorney general’s office, the research shows that criminals are most likely to re-offend in the first eight months after their release from prison. By that rational, it makes sense to give former inmates supports for that period. Now, that research doesn’t deal with sex offenders specifically, so in the Conway case that is still up for debate, but otherwise it seems a win for both those convicted and society as a whole: individuals get supports that keep them from re-offending, and society experiences fewer crimes.

But this breaks down about where victims enter the equation. For some people prison is about rehabilitation, but for others it’s about retribution. Some people are bound to look at nine months of freedom as nine months those people don’t deserve. And they aren’t wrong.

And, when it comes to sex offenders, those emotions are understandable even if you don’t agree.

But how should it be enshrined by the law? SB500 has two parts that trouble people: the 90 day limit on parole violations, and the nine month early release program with monitoring. The monitoring structure hasn’t been set up yet, and victims don’t want to see a violator going to prison for 90 days if they have committed a crime.

There seems to be a solution for both: set up the monitoring program, and differentiate between parole violations and criminal acts. The monitoring program will cost money in the short term, but over the long term it will save corrections dollars and provide benefits to both convicts and society. That makes sense, even if it costs now. And tweak the law so if a parole violation is as a result of a criminal act the 90 day limit does not apply. That would give victim’s families confidence they won’t be subjected to repeated run-ins with offenders every six months, but it sets up the guidelines to govern parole violations that SB500 was enacted to address.

But in an election year, where this has become debate for the partisans, discussion is hard to come by. I’ll be interested to see where this goes, and whether people backpedal from what is essentially a good law.

And no one disagrees on that. Even the law’s most ardent critic, who’s daughter was targeted by a registered sex offender, thinks the law has value. He is concerned about specifics, however, and rightly so. But it seems the debate over the law has been fueled by an imprecise reading (and imprecise characterizations in the media). There are several measures to roll it back that will go before the house and the senate this week. It will be interesting to see where they go, and to see how the debate evolves over time.

First Week

What a week! My first week is over, and it was great.

Granted, some of the stories I covered weren’t all that uplifting, but several others were important discussions about the direction the state should go. I’ll have an interesting piece in Tuesday’s paper about what impact Senate Bill 500 has on the state (it’s not what you think.)

And the daily deadline, the daily pressure, is great. It motivates me and pushes me in ways I need. The office environment is great as well, with interesting discussions and perspectives that push my reporting.

I also get to cover a lot of the hard news. Whether it’s accidents or legislation, it lands on my desk. That’s how I prefer it.

And I’ve got the time and the resources to do more verification than I ever had before. The office helps out so much in that respect, because it’s a place where people can count on reaching me.

I am looking forward to when a few of my freelance projects settle down, so I can get caught up and stop running around like crazy. In time, I guess.

Most importantly, however, I resubmitted my Iraq application with new dates (I didn’t realize I wouldn’t hear until rather late in the game, and so I held off on buying tickets.) And I bought a plane ticket to Kuwait. I found out I can rent bulletproof gear, so I won’t have to spend $2,000 on equipment. It’s a January journey that should be both challenging and exhilarating. I am looking forward to doing justice to the stories of the troops so far from home, in the conflict that is now second priority.

So things are taking off, and I’ll have no rest until February.

First Day

I wrote about a pedestrian who got hit by a truck and a man who drowned int he Swift River yesterday. Not exactly a slow start to the new job.

But I have a desk, and other people to talk to, and an office with a kitchen. The little luxuries…

But again, as the Fraser mill nears the deadline, I can’t help but to be drawn north. The experience and proficiency I’ll gain by working at a daily are important, but I don’t want to lose sight of other long-term projects. I’m trying to pitch a larger, more nationally focused version of my NHPR story it I can, hopefully to air before the mill closes.

By the way, if you missed my NHPR piece, you can listen to it here.

And check out my new paper, the Conway Daily Sun.

More NHPR

Well, that was encouraging.

After feeling like I was juggling a bit more than I could handle, today I dropped and came out fine.

In the crazy week that was I thought the Lumberjack Festival was today. So I went up there to take pictures as my last act for the paper, and also to interview people for my NHPR story on the Fraser mill.

Well, the festival is tomorrow. And I couldn’t just wait around: my editor needed the piece tonight because he was heading out of town.

So I hit up Cascade Flats, the borough where the mill sits, to talk to residents about what their reactions were to the closing of the mill.

What I got was gold. It didn’t have the kitschy sound the Lumberjack Festival would have, but it was authentic. Two of the people I talked to worked at the mill, and both had been laid off. For one it was recent, 30 months ago, and for the other it was 30 years ago.

Those two voices mixed with those of business owners, selectmen, city councilors and the governor to weave a great story about what people fear will come. It isn’t Shakespeare, but it is by far the best radio piece I’ve done. It’s nice when you feel like you trip, and you wind up doing a somersault and landing on your feet.

I think it’ll be on Monday morning, but I’ll put up more information as I know.

Short weekend though—I’ve still got two videos to finish, as well as my last stories for the Berlin Reporter. That’s OK, after such a success it’ll be a quick ride home.

Crazy

When things get busy, they get crazy.

It’s my last official day at the Reporter (I’ve still got stories to write, but those I’ll finish over the weekend), and I’m running around like mad. When something like this mill story happens it’s impossible to get too deep. New Hampshire Governor John Lynch was there today to talk to the workers, to reassure them the state was doing what it could.

I was trying to take notes, pictures, audio and video. What a way to roll.

The daily deadline (like the one I had for NHPR today) will be a new experience for me, something I’m anxious to tackle. I already received a tip for a story in my new coverage area, and I haven’t even started yet. And I’ve got freelance projects for several clients, all of which are about to come due.

So I’m sitting at WMCC with a video camera, minidisc recorder, point and shoot and laptop, trying to make sure I cover every one of my bases. It’s been an exciting day, and it’s still not over. I’ve got another interview in a couple hours. It’s already 5 p.m. on Friday night.

But that’s the way it goes, and I wouldn’t change anything. I am hoping over time I’ll get better at this, so juggling the different aspects doesn’t create a disaster. I didn’t get as much audio as I would have liked from Gov. Lynch because I didn’t have the right microphone, and when I did get close enough to him to record my minidisc went dead. I was able to fix it, but by the time I did he was done speaking. Luckily I got an interview afterward, but it wasn’t the gems I lost from earlier. It seems like I’m juggling too many balls right now, but with practice it’ll get better (I hope).

Regardless, even more interesting than Gov. Lynch’s statements were the comments I got from workers. That’s what really matters. They are who are really going to be hit. It is their story that needs to be told. And I got that. I’ve got an NHPR story lined up for next week about them, the ones who really deserve to be heard. That’s the story I don’t want to drop, no matter how crazy it gets.

Political Impact

Gov. John Lynch will be in Gorham today to speak to workers about the mill shutdown. I’ll be there for the Reporter, but I’m also going to grab some tape of it for NHPR, and maybe even shoot some video of it for myself. I am interested to hear what it is he can do. The reaction to the Reporter’s facebook page report that he was coming up was exactly that: what is he going to do about it? That’s a fair question, because at this point it seems far-fetched that something is going to come through. But we’ll see.

I’m also scheduled to speak to a Gorham selectman and Berlin’s mayor, and I’ll take the opportunity to talk to as many mill workers as possible. It’s going to be a busy day, but at least it’s raining.