GUEST COLUMN: Marblehead Current gives town another chance for to lead way

It could be a very good thing that Marblehead lost its “community newspaper” earlier this year. This new paper, the Current, can succeed in many ways.

I was a reporter and editor of the Marblehead and/or Swampscott Reporters from 1987 to 2011, a Golden Age for both publications.

There were six writers on the Marblehead staff in 1987 but mostly just one editorial person per paper at the end.

George Derringer was a reporter and editor of the Marblehead and/or Swampscott Reporters from 1987 to 2011.

What happened? That’s easy, but I don’t believe the common wisdom that the internet killed the Reporters. The truth is that greedy people took over with disastrous results.

Before the giant corporations arrived, staff members wrote stories and covered ”—you might even say “blanketed”—the town. We took pictures of everything. We attended meetings of the Municipal Light Commission, wrote police, fire and harbor logs, pictured the dedication of almost everything, and attended not only the Finance Committee but the SUBCOMMITTEES of the Finance Committee! You get the idea.

We wrote features galore, ran Fraffie Welch’s Wooden Spoon column and even lots of things I wrote. There was the 350th, the USS Constitution visit. The Marblehead Reporter was free, delivered every Thursday to every dwelling unit in town. (Swampscott wasn’t so lucky, but that had to do with the people who started the Reporter and bought the Marblehead Messenger.)

But the big companies and investment firms arrived; gradually, positions went away. Our corporate owners included the Fortress Group, Fidelity Investments, the Boston Herald and more before Gannett gobbled up the Reporters. Each new owner said the papers’ excellence would continue. The reverse was true.

Each buyer used a similar strategy like this: Buy the papers, cut the staff, maximize revenue, then sell the papers and whatever property they owned.

There is a price for the public to pay. As with many subjects today, it’s related to democracy. People have little idea how local government works. Corruption will slowly creep in because nobody’s watching. It’s human nature.

I am confident the Current will work hard to keep a critical eye on things. I hope it will honor the town’s past of 373 years of direct democracy and even expand citizen involvement and understanding. Who gave the Current this chance? Well …

It was none other than ….  the executioner of the Reporter.

Thanks, Gannett! You have given Marblehead another chance to lead the way, to be “first in Revolution and first in Sixty-one.”

Marblehead must not lose its LOCAL newspaper, a major but often overlooked component of the town’s life and culture. Oh, in the short run, nearby dailies will pretend to cover Marblehead and other communities in the same boat, but we all know better.

And TV? Well, TV might even show up for major events, but that’s it.

The internet? It does well in publishing news quickly but is hardly comprehensive to the town.

Bottom line: Only a truly independent local newspaper can work. It requires a committed staff that is aware of their contribution to the community. (Honest: Every community journalist is paid well below the minimum wage, if you count the hours they actually work.)

So, welcome to the Current, a community non-profit newspaper. Can it work? If people care, there is an example, though flawed: public radio and television. Will people support the Marblehead Current like they support Channel 2? Marbleheaders now have the perfect opportunity to find out.

What if community journalism fails? You will watch the Dear Old Towne slowly turn into “a nice Boston suburb” instead of the unique community it is. I can’t imagine anything more horrible than seeing Marblehead history forgotten, landmarks forsaken for the latest business or architectural trend, and the intense involvement of the people in decision-making turned into “official announcements” from government officials.

They’re all non-biased, right? Of course not.

Instead, Marblehead must maintain deep respect for its past and carry the signs of its noble ancestry far into the future. Supporting the Marblehead Current will be a good start. We long to see the cooking column return, all the logs come back and settle down to read the letters to the editor from both happy and unhappy people.

Be fearless, old and new friends at the Current!

George Derringer spent 24 years in a Reporter newsroom and retired in 2011. He now lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, where he has been known to write a story or two for a local newspaper. He especially likes seeing the stories in local newspapers covered the next day on TV newscasts. Oh, there is no prize for identifying all Marblehead song lyrics in this essay.

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