Last week the New England Newspaper and Press Association named the Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton the “Newspaper of the Year.” I am happy for my former paper.
First, I know how hard the newspaper’s staff, including many of my former colleagues, works to cover the communities of Western Massachusetts. I follow the news from afar still on its website www.gazettenet.com. Besides the hard news, such as holding government officials accountable, the Gazette balances it with the fun stuff.
Here’s an example: Take a look at Jerrey Roberts’ photo from the paper’s website of Ellen Bartos walking her horse, Teddy, from a neighbor’s pasture back home. The cutline notes the woman’s horses are enjoying the “last of the good fall grass.”
I am now the managing editor of The Taos News, a weekly paper in Northern New Mexico, and I owe my start to the Gazette.
I never took a journalism course or wrote for a newspaper but an editor agreed to take me on as a correspondent for my town of Worthington, population 1,200. Worthington has one church, one bar, and one stoplight. I had to get the story right. After all, it was most likely I would run into the people I quoted at the town’s only store the next day.
When I first started, I used to write my story on a typewriter and drive it down to the newsroom where one of the staff would type it into the system. Then, the paper gave me a Radio Shack laptop that showed seven lines of copy on its screen. That’s all the computer could do, plus send the story over my phone line to the newsroom. I got paid by the inch.
I used the laptop for years until I got my own computer.
My territory expanded to other hilltowns. I covered meetings, events and any news that concerned each one. I wrote features. The hilltowns may have been small but they were rich with interesting country people and at times controversy.
As a result I became a braver person.
Eventually, I got to take on tougher stories such as the closing of a nuclear power plant. I interviewed Tony Lake, national security adviser under President Bill Clinton who had a farm in Worthington, at the White House.
I was hired full-time as a reporter, then a columnist, line and copy editor during my 21 years with the Daily Hampshire Gazette.
I figure those early years working as a correspondent were the equivalent of a BA in journalism.
Now I oversee the production of a newspaper, which wins its share of awards. I believe our staff covers the heck out of this community.
So I am grateful to The Daily Hampshire Gazette for giving me a chance long ago and for teaching me about community journalism. Congratulations, friends, for a job well done.
ABOUT THE TOP PHOTO: I snapped this photo today of Victor Higgins’ painting “Winter Funeral” hanging in the Harwood Museum of Art. It is my favorite Taos painting and the subject of my story for The Taos News’ Winter Visitor’s Guide.