Monday, February 13, 2006

NEPA report: Part I


Here's my promised "report" on the New England Press Association convention in Boston myself and three others from the Stowe Reporter attended over the weekend: very cool. Part 1 is a quick recap of the convention itself. Part 2 will be ramblings about my wandering Boston. Above, I snapped this pic of a local television reporter interviewing people on Stuart Street in Boston on Friday. He asked folks if they were wearing something called an "ipod" and why. Cool.

A few nuggets from the NEPA convention:

• Of the five workshops I attended, "Effective Writing" was my most memorable. It's encouraging for me to get a fresh perspective on community journalism. The main theme from veteran journalist/ editor Jerry Larson? Humanize the news story, especially the uber-dry municipal meetings, if it's appropriate.

"Keep it personal," Larson told us. "Bring us humanity through ideas. Tell ideas through one person."

Indeed, it's easy for reporters who cover the minutia of town government, courts, education and all other officials areas of interest to get caught in formula. "The Stowe Select Board voted today to ban feeding wild turkeys...," as opposed to "Joe Smith raised his hand, cleared his throat and defended his passion: feeding wild turkeys." OK, maybe that's a lame example, but you get the idea. Whenever you can, it's best to bring as much humanity as possible to a story.

• Other nuggets: Municipal finance was a yawner. Just kidding. It was a yawner but it was educational to get the perspective from the town administrator of Dover, Mass., on what goes into the creation of a municipal budget: "Expenses, revenues and rules," a mantra he repeated at least a dozen times.

Online access to court records: Apparently, Vermont's Web site is second-worst only to Rhode Island when it comes to the disclosure of PUBLIC court information on the Internet. Information about district and superior court cases are available in calendar format, for a one-time $10 activation fee, but actual documents (police affidavits, briefs, motions) aren't. Currently, that's a service that only the federal courts offer and states are debating whether such information could potentially violate privacy rights, among other concerns.

• Also: Not many of those at the "Don't fear blogs workshop" seemed to write blogs as reporters or editors. Some didn't really know what a weblog is, and some objected to the notion of newspapers having one at all. This workshop was presented by Steve Safran of the weblog Lost Remote and featured an honest discussion of pros and cons of blogging, especially for community newspapers. Ultimately, I tend to agree with Safran in his assessment of what role blogs should play in the media landscape: "The best ones act like a fifth estate and hold us accountable in a meaningful way."

Exactly. And newspaper readers, eager and able more than ever to chime in, need to get access.

"Our readers are not going to be passive recipients of the news," Safran said. "They want to become players, at least some of them do."

Unfortunately, I'd say most people currently view the "blogosphere" as being either a shout-session between extreme left and right-leaning political wanks or a journal about what Joe Smith has for breakfast this morning. But a blog, as Safran rightly pointed out, is just software. What someone puts on that blank canvas is open-ended and full of possibility.

Finally: The Stowe Reporter's photographer Glenn Callahan won an award for his pictorial photo "Frosty Ferns." Way to go Glenn!

– Scott Monroe

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