Now that we’ve all agreed that we’ll miss Chloe Gotsis, her cheery disposition, and her passion for Newton politics, I think the time is appropriate to look at what her departure from the TAB means to the city.
When Ashley Studley left the TAB in September, I predicted on this blog that GateHouse would not replace her and I defied the company to prove me wrong. I was happy to report later that month that they did just that.
I’m going to make the same prediction again, only this time the TAB has lost a full-time reporter who covered the city for more than two years. I am concerned that Assistant Editor Chloe Gotsis’ exit from GateHouse Media will mean the permanent loss of a journalist covering this city, and the Newton TAB will never see more than one full-time reporter again. At least not under its current ownership.
This community deserves more from its local paper, and I’d be happy if GateHouse proves me wrong again.
When I became editor of the Newton TAB in October 2006, I had two full-time reporters. At some point — maybe after Chrissie Long left? — the Brookline editor and I had to start sharing one of those full-time reporters. One-half a reporter never learns the community 50 percent as well as a full-time reporter. It just isn’t possible when one spends only 20 hours per week covering a community the size of Newton.
And, now, with Chloe’s departure, Newton is likely to be covered by just one reporter and one editor. Why do I think this? Because Cambridge and Somerville, cities of 106,000 and 77,000 people respectively, have been reduced — through attrition — to one editor and one reporter.
Probably Trevor Jones will become the Newton full-time reporter. I haven’t met Trevor, but I’m impressed by what I’ve read so far. But it doesn’t matter how good he is — one reporter can’t cover the mayor, the Board of Aldermen, and the School Committee. Freelancers and interns can’t pick up that slack. In most communities, it’s school coverage that suffers. But Newton isn’t a community where that can happen. We’re too passionate about our schools.
So, what happens? The mayor and the board become less accountable. The newspaper contains less news about Newton and more news written by GateHouse employees who have never set foot in the city. Residents will read less about property taxes and elections (one reporter covering 33 elected officials?) and collective bargaining and more about block parties or statewide news they read in the Boston Globe three days earlier. The editor will tear her hair out and shove it down the phone when people call and say, “My son’s pre-school sent you the honor roll two days ago and it wasn’t in this week’s paper. Why not?” (Actually, that probably already happens.)
Newton isn’t alone in this situation. GateHouse New England has dedicated just four reporters to Newton, Brookline, Cambridge, and Somerville, communities with a collective population of about 325,000 people.
It’s not that other media outlets don’t provide news. They do. GlobeWest’s Dierdre Fernandes is the best they’ve had in a long time, but there’s only so much space the section is going to allot to Newton. Likewise, Melanie Graham does a good job with Newton Patch, but I’m not sure it has the mindshare of enough residents to have an impact.
In case I haven’t been clear: I don’t think anyone could produce a newspaper that adequately covers Newton with only one reporter. It’s just not possible.