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Mike Pride

Mike Pride: In the newsroom, this season is a democracy marathon

You wouldn’t believe what this season of school and town meetings is like in the newsroom.

If you live in a town and want to be an involved citizen, you attend two meetings and vote on the second Tuesday in March. In addition to the satisfaction of doing your civic duty, you get a break from cabin fever and a chance to catch up with friends you haven’t seen since the first flakes flew.

Although the meetings are less central to town life than they used to be, they provide an increasingly rare opportunity. People can speak their minds, listen to their neighbors and make decisions for the common good. The digital world is amazing, but the real one still works sometimes, too.

In the newsroom, meeting season is different. Suddenly democracy erupts in quiet rural towns all around Concord. The news staff settles in for a marathon, not a sprint.

To prepare for the season this year, Monitor journalists pored through dozens of warrants and called town officials. They wrote previews to give townspeople (and themselves) an idea of the important issues on the warrants. Then, through sleet and snow and dark of night, they went out to cover meetings.

Barring another winter storm, meeting season ends March 24 with the continuation of the Bow town meeting. By then the Monitor staff will have covered three deliberative session and 25 meetings and provided election results from 33 towns and school districts.

You’ve already noticed the result: headlines in the paper heralding big news from all around the region.

Allenstown voters saved their schools from huge budget cuts. Hopkinton, Pembroke, Henniker and Pittsfield passed teacher contracts. Boscawen and Canterbury voters decided the fate of a decrepit old bridge between their towns.

A throng of Bow residents said no to a public safety building.

These stories have engaged all our reporters and news editors, but the mastermind behind our coverage this year is Sarah Palermo, a name familiar to regular Monitor readers. Palermo is our reporter on the health care beat. She is a graduate of Vassar College who worked for 4½ years for the defunct Tatonic Press in New York and the Keene Sentinel before coming here in 2011.

On her first day on the job she covered the Andover town meeting.

Palermo led planning for the advance work for meetings. She scheduled reporters, editors and correspondents to cover them all, including the huge slate originally scheduled for yesterday. She ran the meeting at which coverage was organized and staffers compared notes about trends.

Her effort came at a time of transition in the newsroom. Two reporting jobs were open, and newsroom leadership was changing. Despite these conditions, Palermo’s plan has worked.

The last full meeting on the schedule is the Winnisquam School District meeting on March 23. The plan has Palermo covering that one herself.

Two new reporters

The two new reporters who joined us last month and whose bylines you’ve seen often since in the Monitor are Allie Morris and Iain Wilson.

Morris came to us from the PBS NewHour, where she worked for more than two years as a production assistant, producer and reporter. She is a 2011 graduate of Vanderbilt University, where she majored in Spanish and religious studies. She spent a semester in Chile.

Her parents, Jim Morris and Deborah dePeyster, live in Concord. DePeyster was a Monitor reporter for four years during the 1970s.

Morris covers Hopkinton, Bow, Warner, Weare, Henniker and Dunbarton.

Wilson worked for three Rhode Island publications before coming to the Monitor. He spent the last 3½ years as a reporter for a weekly newspaper in Newport. A graduate of Salve Regina University, also in Newport, he majored in communications and English literature.

Wilson covers Boscawen, Loudon, Salisbury, Canterbury, Webster and the Concord and Merrimack Valley school districts.

Why so much turnover at the Monitor lately?

I think in the newsroom it should be a "Fairness and Balance in reporting" marathon. Turnover, well as they say, if you always do what you have always done you will always get the same results. The same results are still not cutting it.

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