A new reporter started in the Enterprise newsroom this week. Her name is Jessica Hill.
As part of Jessica’s weekly routine, she will be sharing Falmouth District Court duties with another one of our reporters. This entails going to the courthouse each day to review paperwork from the previous day’s proceedings.
Tuesday afternoon, she returned with news about Jack Stanton’s drunk driving arrest. As many will recall, Mr. Stanton ran against incumbent Randy Hunt last year for the 5th Barnstable District seat on Beacon Hill. Even though he didn’t win the race, the Sandwich High School graduate gained a lot of support here in town and, with Mr. Hunt not seeking reelection in 2020, Mr. Stanton might run again.
So the story is significant.
Working in the news business, there’s always a rush of adrenaline when you unearth a story that you know will make a splash with readers. This was one of them.
But then again, we know Mr. Stanton. We like Mr. Stanton. We are friends with friends of Mr. Stanton. And this story will not reflect well on him. That’s truly unfortunate.
So when Jessica came back from court with the news, it engendered both excitement and regret.
But regret or not, we had a job to do. The story went up on our website as soon as Jessica could write it.
This emotional tug-of-war is not uncommon within a community newspaper. We’re part of the community, after all. We live here, too.
We’re writing about people we know, who shop in the same markets as we do, who go to the same church, whose children attend the same schools as ours.
It can get quite cozy when things are good. But it can get uncomfortable pretty quickly when the story is not so good.
One of our editors tells a story about the time, years ago, he ran a story about his brother-in-law whom police caught smoking marijuana in a car parked in the Boardwalk parking lot one night the week before Thanksgiving.
There was not a lot of happy chitchat around the holiday table that year, he says. Everyone was walking on eggshells.
Reporters and editors at the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal probably have never run into that situation before. Those journalists are removed from the stories they are covering. For some stories they report, they may never see their sources again, ever.
Not us. We’re bound to bump into the folks we’re writing about next week at the diner or on the sidelines of the soccer field.
It was a good teaching moment for our newest reporter -- for all of our young reporters, for that matter. As a reporter for a community news organization, you can't play the part of the detached journalist. You’re in too deep for that.
Our responsibility to be fair and accurate weighs heavily on us. Very heavily.
We know we’ll be answering for the decisions we make the next time we’re out at the hardware store, or the fish market, or the movie theater…