Inside 'New England's Newspaper of the Year' By caeli chesin

It’s a typical busy afternoon in the newsroom. Papers are stacked high on reporters’ desks. Phone conversations and the pattering of fingers quickly typing away on their respective keyboards creates a soft hum amongst the white and beige walls of the Northampton office.

In early October, the Daily Hampshire Gazette was once again honored by the New England Newspaper & Press Association, NENPA, as the “New England Newspaper of the Year.” The competition recognizes the achievements of newspapers of the six New England states in which papers compete against similarly sized news organizations in the region. Currently, the Gazette has about a 20 person full-time news staff.

Executive editor Jeffrey Good makes a call at his desk Friday, Nov. 3, 2017.
Executive editor Jeffrey Good and managing editor Dan Crowley work amongst the office.

“It’s wonderful to be recognized as putting out a good news report, but you can’t rest on those laurels. We have another newspaper coming out tomorrow and that has to be good too,” the Gazette’s executive editor Jeffrey Good said. “Awards are cool. We love to get them. Who doesn’t? But, the best award really is that we’re doing important work and our readers benefit from it.”

According to NENPA’s website, the competition is unlike any other in the industry because winners are chosen by “jury panels of newspaper readers.” The competition allows editors to watch these juries deliberate in order to gain insight into how their paper compares to its peers, and gain valuable reader insight on the paper’s effectiveness and appeal. According to the Gazette, the paper was previously recognized with the same award five times in the last eleven years: 2007, 2008, 2013, 2015 and now 2017.

The Gazette’s managing editor Dan Crowley said while it’s always an honor to be noted in the field for the work they do, the award is also in recognition of their readers for holding them to a high standard. Crowley recognizes all the parts and pieces that go into keeping the paper running day in and day out, from advertising, classifieds, customer service and the press team.

Opinion editor Stanley Moulton sits at his desk at the Northampton office.

“We have a real commitment to doing original, enterprising news. You want to surprise them [the readers] every day with news that they could use that is insightful [and] that has context,” Crowley said.

This year, the Gazette was also awarded for public service by NENPA for its 2016, three-part investigative series “Under the Table,” which revealed a group of local Asian restaurants that paid undocumented immigrant employees less than minimum wage for work weeks as long as 72 hours. Reporter Amanda Drane, photo editor Carol Lollis and page designer Lucy Pickett led the investigation.

“It was a pretty difficult story to do because of the language barrier and because people didn’t really want to be photographed or interviewed,” Lollis said. She recalled the project as particularly challenging because while she is told “no” as a journalist all the time, she has never tried to do a whole story based on the premise of people saying “no.”

According to Lollis, the investigation included a weekend away in New York where she and Drane followed a few former underpaid Northampton employees as they looked for new jobs, waiting outside Northampton businesses for extended periods of times – at one point getting yelled at by a woman in Chinese when taking a worker aside to talk for a moment. The investigation and reporting process went on for about four months before the first story of the series was published. About a year later, the Massachusetts attorney general has fined four of the seven eateries identified in the reporting for a violation of labor laws.

“I think one of the most important things that journalists do is stand up for people that would otherwise have noone to stand up for them. When we heard that these undocumented, immigrant workers were being taken advantage of by their employers, we felt honor-bound to investigate that,” Good said. “It felt rewarding to tell those important stories that otherwise might of not been told.”

Inside the Daily Hampshire Gazette's newsroom Friday Nov.3, 2017.

Emily Cutts is a reporter for the Gazette who started about a year ago after moving from Vermont. She starts most days at the courthouse or the Northampton police station, looking for the stories she will cover that day. Cutts also greatly values local journalism.

“Local journalists are the people that go to city council meetings and select board meetings, and sometimes you go to licensing commission meetings, or water and sewer meetings. We sit through these long meetings and we’re there listening. The New York Times and the Washington Post isn’t coming to South Hadley to go to a select board meeting, but the Gazette is,” Cutts said, emphasizing that local journalists have the important information in relation to that particular community.

The New York Times and the Washington Post isn’t coming to South Hadley to go to a select board meeting, but the Gazette is,” Cutts said,

Cutts acknowledges that while it's hard to keep up with how the industry has changed, it remains important to go out in the community and continue to talk to people. The next feat is for newsrooms to properly tackle the Internet.

Crowley said the circulation of newspapers is on the decline, and that brings in a challenge for news organizations to find the best way to reach their audiences.

“For a number of years now, we have been working on our online and mobile news platforms,” Crowley said. “Finding what works best is the biggest challenge in regards of getting readers attention and continuing to grow our audience.”

Opinion editor and internship coordinator Stanley Moulton has been at the Gazette for over 40 years. He stated how important it is for their readers to have information about the local government, schools, business, art, health, sports and crime. Yet, he says it's unfortunate that less young people are reading the newspaper nowadays.

Lollis recognizes the news model is changing, yet refuses to believe it is dying.

“I believe it’s changing. I believe it will be a different color than what I knew and what I know, and I’m really excited for you guys to tell me what color it’s going to be," said Carol Lollis.

“It is not dying. I’m not even sure if I believe that print is dying,” Lollis said. “I believe it’s changing. I believe it will be a different color than what I knew and what I know, and I’m really excited for you guys to tell me what color it’s going to be.”

The Daily Hampshire Gazette is one of the oldest continuously published newspapers in the United States, publishing since 1786. In 1929, the paper was purchased by the DeRose family in which Harriet DeRose became one of the first women newspaper publishers in America. After she passed, her son took over. In 2005, Newspapers of New England took over the Gazette and the Amherst Bulletin from the DeRose family.

From those who just entered the newsroom to those there for decades, each journalist had a pocket of advice for journalism students or reporters just about to enter the newsroom.

Lollis said she can’t teach young reporters to be interested, but reminded them “that you have to honestly care.” Moulton pushed for internships. Cutts reminded young journalists to ask for what you want, and to reach out to reporters you admire for advice.

Piles of today's papers and papers to be recycled near the entrance of the Gazette office.

Caeli Chesin can be reached at mchesin@umass.edu or on Twitter at @caeli_chesin.

A correction was made to the original reporting on Nov. 8, 2017 about where Emily Cutts worked before Hampshire County. While she grew up in Minnesota, she came from Vermont for her job at the Gazette.

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