I’ll take that as a compliment

Melissa Stagnaro

At Tuesday night’s school board meeting in Norwich, one area resident took aim at many aspects of The Leadership Project. No one was spared including, interestingly enough, The Evening Sun.

“[T]he local newspaper seemed to know more than the board or school staff and students,” he said, with a pointed look in my direction.

While I know it wasn’t intended as such, I actually took that as a compliment. After all, isn’t the role of a newspaper to disseminate information?

Our small newsroom is stretched to the max on most days, as our staff strains to cover as many events across the county as we possibly can. I know how hard my fellow reporters and I work, and the hours we spend on the phone, on the internet and in the field, to gather the information we need to keep people informed.

Sure, we have some contacts that will help tip us off on a particular topic. But most of what we learn is because we always have our ear to the ground  so to speak, and then do the legwork to follow it up.

The fact that we may “know more” on a particular topic is hardly a conspiracy. It’s a result of that effort. And, frankly, it’s our job.

Obviously, going into the June 2 board meeting, I knew The Leadership Project would be a hot topic. We’d been getting phone calls and letters to the editor for nearly a week. I wanted to make sure that I had enough information to make sense of what happened at the meeting, so I made some phone calls.

And after the meeting, at which I took a copious amount of notes and collected some written statements, I made more calls. Why? Because I still didn’t feel like I knew enough about the actual program that had sparked so much controversy. And I figured if I felt like I didn’t know enough, our readers would probably be of the same opinion.

While I like to eat mushrooms, I don’t aspire to be one and would never assume that anyone else does either. That’s why I always strive to get as many sides to the story as possible. I figured there had to be something about this program that had convinced a local business to ante up $10,000, so I set about finding out what that “something” was. And I wrote an article based on what I learned, just as I had done after the board meeting.

The paper’s decision to “embed” me with the students on the retreat was an interesting opportunity for us. It was the only true way for us to see if the retreat was all the organizers said it would be. Trust me, if it hadn’t been, my communications from the Adirondacks would have been a heck of a lot different.

It was a great PR exercise for the newspaper, although our critic implied it was strictly a way of advocating for the program. As I’ve blogged about before, it gave us a chance to test our use of technology and social networking to supplement our online content and drive traffic to our website. Based on the numbers, and the feedback we’ve received, I’d say it was a success. The daily blogs and frequent “tweets” had many following our site closely for the four days of our trip and well after our return.

Just how successful was it? I got an email earlier this week from my cousin Terry, who lives in Kentucky. He and his family are planning for their vacation and looking into visiting the Lake Placid area. Somewhat by chance, he googled “Lake Placid evening.” You’ll never guess what popped up at the top of his search results: one of my blogs from the trip. How cool is that!

In our articles, we strive to be as balanced and unbiased as possible, but we do have three outlets to share our own feelings, opinions and observations of the issues we cover. Those are the “thumbs” which appear every Friday, our blogs and our columns. And today, as always, I’m glad to have that outlet.

Once again, thanks for the compliment.