For many of us, community journalism represents more than simply a job. It’s not a 9-to-5 proposition, and it’s not a situation where we swoop into a city or town, extract a quick story, or series of stories, on a bank robbery or a murder, and then leave.
As someone who decided many years ago that my professional time was best served in a job where I can see with my own eyes the difference I might make in people’s lives, I can attest that the rewards of community journalism go much further than the check I receive at the end of the week.
We are invested. Your issues are our issues. Your stories are our stories, and not just as vehicles to sell a product. Many of us live in these communities, and those who do not live in communities with similar issues. We do business here. What affects your business affects our business.
We like to think we approach our stories, and the issues we deem important enough to cover, from the perspective of families who live in this area, pay property taxes, entrust their children to the public school system and organized youth activities, and use the area’s infrastructure to go to work, do their shopping, and run other errands.
In 2017, we inaugurated our “Persons of the Year” program, where we accepted nominations from each of the communities we cover so we could recognize people whose contributions to their cities and towns might not be formally noticed as much as they perhaps should. We set no limits. Anyone who made a positive impact, in any way, was eligible to be nominated and chosen. Among the inaugural group of recipients was the person who inspired and planned the painting of murals in Lynn. Only one — Thomas Gould of Peabody — was an elected official.
The same thing applies this year as only one recipient — Elizabeth Marchese of Saugus — holds public office.
The other seven from this year’s group includes a library director (Peabody’s Martha Holden), an arts director (Patti DiCarlo Baker of Marblehead), a non-profit director (Jo Ann Simons of Swampscott), a community liaison (Rachid Moukhabir of Revere), a lawyer who took on a powerful youth football association (Lauren Maney George of Lynnfield), a funeral director who doubles as a philanthropist (David J. Solimine Sr. of Lynn) and a senior citizen who lives and breathes the history of her town (Calantha Sears of Nahant).
Even the one elected official, Marchese, was recognized not so much for being on the Saugus School Committee, but for her work on behalf of the town’s youth in many different areas.
We feel the choices we made as our persons of the year reflect our mission as a community newspaper. We seek to recognize people who make their cities and towns better places in which to live. Maybe it’s by making the library a haven for kids, or by being an effective conduit that connects the city to his people. Perhaps it’s by using her legal knowledge to cut through a mass of red bureaucratic tape. Or maybe it’s by recognizing that kids have no chance at succeeding at anything if there aren’t adults in their lives willing to do more than talk about it.
And though the arts may seem insignificant to some, in a place such as Marblehead, where culture and history are big parts of its legacy, having someone who recognizes that and works hard to preserve it is invaluable.
Can you imagine the jumble of emotions you feel when you’re confronted with the news your son has Down syndrome? Simons turned that around into something positive, and today is the CEO of Northeast Arc, an agency for people with mental and physical disabilities.
Solimine is a man who has spent his life giving back, and Sears, at 97, is a remarkable person who is a walking, talking history book when it comes to her town.
We were delighted at the response we received. An overflow crowd attended the reception for our recipients Tuesday at the Lynn Museum. And the crowd wasn’t simply comprised of family members either.
We were gratified by the pride people showed in their awards. Most didn’t expect it, and a few didn’t understand why they were recognized. And that’s the best reason to honor people — because whatever they’re doing, it’s not for the honor of taking bows afterward.
These aren’t exactly pleasant times. There is an undercurrent of tension and dissension as the tug-of-war in all communities between resources and services continues unabated. Despite that, we seek to be uniters, and not dividers. And giving people in our cities and towns a pat on the back for their selfless dedication to the betterment of their communities is one of the best ways we know to be uniters.