My NPR

This story aired the other day, and I didn’t get around to posting it. A few minutes in there is a guy who is a lobbyist for the cement industry who talks about the tiny amounts of the pollutants released by burning hazardous wastes in cement kilns. He actually lives in New Hampshire, and that sound bite was my first ever work to appear on NPR. So that’s cool. It’s not a whole story, but I still posted a photo of the check when it came. Hopefully there are more of those in my future…

The whole series by the way, Poisoned Places, is really cool. I love it when broadcasters go investigative. The subtitle Toxic Air, Neglected Communities, made me think of covering Berlin. Few people want to dig into industrialization’s downside.

Berlin, once again

I heard the news of the death of the Laidlaw Berlin Biopower project on NHPR last week, and the information has been trickling in ever since. I’m not sure what to think. I have always understood both sides of that argument — some people for it, some against, based on whether they needed jobs now or could wait for some better future down the road. Now it’s gone, the federal prison is on hold, and the state prison survived after some threats by the department of corrections. Where is Berlin headed? I wish I knew. I’m not there nearly as much as I was, but I still make it up there far more than I ever did before I worked there. And I still think about how to get back there. What will it be? Who will work there? I think it’s like most working class places — dying out. The fact is the socioeconomic strata that the mill supported has evaporated in the United States. Portland, Maine, and Portsmouth are clear examples of what happens next: they get turned into upscale apartments that the former working class residents can’t afford. Will that happen in Berlin? It already is, but it hasn’t become a trend yet. We’ll see if it reaches that tipping point. And we’ll see how the people that trend edges out react. It looks to be an interesting time, for sure…

Ray Day

My alarm is set for 4:45 a.m., because tomorrow I’m hanging out with Ray.

Ray Burton has been has been the executive councilor from the North Country since the year I was born. He was actually there even earlier, but he took a break for a bit and only came back 30 years ago.

He and I got into a discussion about the Conway bypass a month ago after I called him with a few questions. I asked him if $400 million couldn’t be better spent in the North Country than to speed up traffic by 20 minutes.

“What would you do with it?” he asked me.

“I don’t know,” I said, a bit surprised to be asked, “build the second wing on the state prison and fully staff it? I bet good paying jobs in Berlin would have more impact than a bit of road construction.”

The truth is, there isn’t $400 million for the bypass. There isn’t even $64 million for part of it. There is no big pot of money that can be spend on roads or on prisons, and the project is likely going to be pushed off even longer because of state funding problems. But that’s a different story for a different time. My discussion with Ray took a side turn there, and it ended with Ray inviting me to be his guest at the executive council breakfast and meeting.

“I’ll be there,” I said.

Back Up North

I spent the day in Coös, working on videos for New Hampshire Grand. It’s always refreshing to get up there. I was talking to someone today at Mount Prospect as I yo-yoed up and down the hill. They were saying they wouldn’t mind if there was no growth and if all the ATVs and snowmobiles went away. It was interesting to hear that from someone I know wants to see the region succeed. This person’s vision for the region, however, differs significantly from many other residents.

The Cascade mill got sold yesterday to a new company. That company has ties to Laidlaw. NHPR called me to see if I could dig into it, but I was digging for my Conway work and couldn’t get away. I read the transcript on NHPR.org from the story they ran, but it didn’t fill in the details. Probably because at this point the details are still sketchy. I would love to have the support I have now and be reporting there, but right now that’s not in the cards.

It is strange, however, to see some of my more regional stories grace the cover of the Berlin Daily Sun. The BDS was my competition, in theory, for a year and a half, although it’s reporters were colleagues and friends. I guess the Reporter is stripping down to even more limited access—the reporter who replaced me was let go and won’t be replaced. There are now two reporters and my former editor putting both the Reporter and the Coös County Democrat together, with the help of some freelancers.

So who watches the region? I think about the story I just wrote, about the Conway police spending money they maybe shouldn’t have. (It’s all a matter of opinion. I stay out of that business and just report what they bought and when.) Who can do that in Berlin? Who can do that in Lancaster? Groveton? Colebrook? I wonder what will happen if the papers there don’t keep going.

I have faith the region will survive, if for no other reason than the willpower of the people who live there. But the transition will be jarring. It already has been. Still, when I grabbed the rope-tow on Mount Prospect and chatted with the dozen people skiing and riding I knew there was no place I’d rather be.

More Mill

This is the former pulp mill, not the paper mill. Here’s a copy of the utility assessor’s testimony on behalf of the city of Berlin on why the Laidlaw project should go ahead. Chris Jensen has been doing some good work on this story for NHPR, but this popped up on Twitter and I’m not sure it’s been out there yet. This is just for those who want to dig a little deeper. I’ve been out of it a bit, but this made for some interesting reading.

T-Minus…

…something like 25 days.

I got confirmation from USF–Iraq my paperwork is complete on their end. I still have one more thing to do, get my visa from the Iraqi government, but otherwise I’m good on that end. At least, that is, as far as paperwork is concerned.

My ballistic goggles are supposedly on their way, along with some ballistic sunglasses. I’ve made arrangements to rent a bulletproof vest for two weeks for something around $200. With that comes rifle plates and a kevlar helmet. The $200 figure may be wrong, but regardless its significantly less than the $2,000 buying that stuff would cost me.

I’m starting to realize I’m actually going. I am looking at dates for meetings I’m supposed to cover and realizing I won’t be here for them (tonight it was a public hearing about the transfer station). I am looking forward to having some time to dedicate to improving my radio reporting and how I tell stories with sound, which this period should allow me.

I was interviewing someone for a follow up piece about long-term pass holders at Wildcat today, and they mentioned they’d heard my piece on NHPR on the Cascade mill. And yesterday I got a comment on Facebook from a friend and former Memorial Hospital board member about how much they liked my article on health care in the Sun. I’ve been busy lately, and it’s had an impact. People are noticing stories.

But at the same time I’m trying to squeeze stories like that of the Cascade mill into a day of reporting, and then further squeeze it into four minutes. That’s tough. I colleague commented that they expected more from my mill story, because of the depth and severity of the situation. I can see that perspective. I talked with someone today who was instrumental in getting Fraser involved the last time the mills were in trouble, and he didn’t think this proposal has a chance. That’s a hard story to tell, though it may be true, and yet at this point it’s only one person’s opinion. I’ve said before I think the North Country needs a documentary, not a sound byte, because the interwoven future, past and present are so complex.

But that’s hard to do with a full time job. That’s hard to do with a daily deadline. That’s why I’m looking forward to a different kind of daily deadline—the kind connected to a radio deadline. The breadth of the stories waiting to be told both here and elsewhere are breathtaking. This trip will be a good “boot camp” for that work.

News Country

Lots going on up north. NHPR had my story alongside one from Chris Jensen about the Laidlaw project, and how the office of the consumer advocate at the PUC was not in favor of the deal. The North Country dominated the news cycle. Heck, the Androscoggin Valley dominated the news cycle. Berlin/Gorham dominated.

Well, in case you missed it, here is Chris’ story about the former pulp mill, and here is my story about the (former?) paper mill.

And if you just want to listen, click below.

Gorham mill sale

NHPR News

I just finished my latest piece on the Gorham mill for NHPR. One of the most challenging things with audio stories is capturing all the sounds, to make the listener really feel like they are there. I went to the Berlin indoor farmer’s market yesterday, where there was a fantastic band (Shelburne Addition) playing, lots of people shopping and all types of sounds and noises. It made interviewing harder, but it gave me the opportunity to work a little harder at capturing the atmosphere of the place.

Again, I can’t over emphasize how nice it was to catch up with so many people over the course of the day reporting that story. It was a little hard to get my work done because so much of my time was spent saying hello to people I hadn’t seen in three months.

But I was able to capture enough sound and talk to enough people to get a good idea of how people are feeling about the mill. It is nice to report something positive happening up there, even if there are serious concerns about where it will go.

And it was nice to get to practice using sound a little more creatively (and surgically). Shelburne Addition did a great job of covering up some of the more difficult edits and making things sound good. Their music helped me bring the feeling of the market into people’s homes and cars. Or, at least, I hope it did. I think it did. I’d love to hear if anyone disagrees.

Sound is a hard thing to capture, but I’m getting better. Two weeks in Iraq should give me a real opportunity to test myself, without any distractions. And the story I just finished should give me the money to get a new microphone before I go. It all works out sometimes.

Oh, by the way, I took this photo yesterday off East Mason Street. It was a stunningly beautiful morning, although my fingers were so cold I could hardly work the camera.

Listen tomorrow morning for my story on NHPR. Probably around 7:15 a.m. I’ll post it on here when I’m finished as well.

Go North

I went up to Berlin today to gather some voices for this story I’m putting together for NHPR on the reaction to the sale of the Cascade mill. What a great day. I ran into person after person I knew, and I probably spent more time chatting with friends and catching up than I did pushing my microphone in people’s faces. Of course I asked everyone I knew about what their reaction to the mill sale was, but only some of them did I lure on tape.

And I was reminded of it once again—what a tight-knit community the North Country is. I went to the WREN farmers market, where people I knew were organizing, selling, performing, shopping and visiting. It was like all of the Androscoggin Valley was coming out to visit.

My voice got hoarse from all the chatting, but the discussion about the mill was also riveting. I’ve been away for a bit, and to swoop in now for NHPR is less than ideal, but luckily I’ve got enough people there that I know who are willing to talk to me. The locals are optimistic but scared. They are hopeful the company that bought the facility will make an honest go of finding a partner and making paper, but they don’t know if it’s going to happen.

The average age of the Cascade mill worker is 58, I was told, and there isn’t much else out there for them. They have to be hopeful. But it sounds like the company has also been straightforward with the workers. If they can’t make it the business run, they’ll tear the mill down and cut their losses.

When that’s all you’ve known, what choice do you have but to harbor a bit of fear? It’s understandable, but it’s also good to see the Androscoggin Valley soldiering on. They’ve had a rough decade, but they haven’t lost their optimism. There were more smiles today than looks of trepidation, even though the timeline for those 237 jobs to come back isn’t clear. That’s a testament to the resolve of the community, and the individual workers who make it up.