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Mike Pride

Mike Pride: So long to the ‘Monitor’s’ comeback kid

Off and on for the last quarter century, Felice Belman has been a journalist for this newspaper. Mainly she has been an editor, and not just any editor, but as one former colleague put it, “a reporter’s dream editor.”

Tomorrow is Belman’s last day at the paper. That is bad news for the Monitor, its readers and Concord. It is good news only for the Boston Globe, where she starts next month as an editor.

The last of Belman’s many acts for the Monitor was to create and run the Forum, our expanded opinion section. As usual, to maintain it she did the work of four people.

She hatched the ideas and solicited and edited the local columns. She enlisted readers for many tasks, from crafting newsy haiku to sharing their opinions on everything from the death penalty and casino gambling to Loudon Road eateries and high-powered women named Lisa.

She wrote most of the editorials and handled the letters to the editor and, sometimes, their writers. Oh, and she often laid out the pages and wrote the headlines.

Experience made Belman perfect for the job. She had been a superb State House reporter, city editor, Sunday editor and managing editor at the Monitor. For seven years, a trying time because of the economic woes all newspapers faced, she served as chief editor.

Belman arrived at the Monitor just after graduating from Oberlin College in 1988. As a political reporter, she covered Gov. Judd Gregg’s administration and Bill Clinton’s first New Hampshire primary run.

Here’s how imaginative her coverage was: When a jet-ski bill came before the Legislature, she persuaded a Kawasaki dealer to let her ride a jet ski on Lake Winnipesaukee. Along with her story about it, we ran a huge picture of her in a swimsuit enjoying the ride.

Belman had the wanderlust typical of a young journalist, and more of it than most. She left the paper three times, to work for Liz Hager’s brief gubernatorial campaign, and then for two years to report for the Newport News (Va.) Daily Press and two more to edit for the Washington Post.

Each time, we lured her back. She likes Concord, has many friends here and never lost her love of community journalism.

It was Annmarie Timmins, a former longtime reporter, who called Belman a reporter’s dream editor. “She was unflappable, unequivocal in her ethics, and brave,” Timmins wrote in an email.

Belman struck a constant note in her advice to a reporter in distress. When Bill O’Brien was House speaker, his office shut Timmins out because of an editorial cartoon he disliked. What should she do? Timmins asked. “Keep on doing your job,” Belman said.

Whether the story was a candidate’s messy child-support case that threatened to run up the Monitor’s legal bills or the Catholic Church’s complaints about tough coverage of the priest scandal, Belman knew only one response: full speed ahead.

Hans Schulz, a Globe editor who served as city editor during Belman’s tenure as editor of the Monitor, recalls her tenacity during hard budget cuts. “The bar was never lowered, and there was always work to be proud of,” he said.

Even with reduced resources, the paper continued its extensive State House, election, city and town coverage. Belman never allowed bad budget news “to trickle down to the rest of us,” Schulz said. “We could just focus on our jobs. What a gift.”

As editor, I hired Belman all four times and was proud when I retired that she was named to succeed me. My last full-time year at the paper, working as a reporter, I learned firsthand what a fine editor she is.

The year was 2007-08, so it included a double-barreled New Hampshire primary. Belman directed whiz-bang coverage of every candidate from Hillary Clinton to Mike Huckabee.

In an editorial during that campaign, Belman called Mitt Romney a “phony.” I gulped when I saw the word but soon realized it was an example of Belman’s courage. Romney had much in common with the New England weather – if you didn’t like what he said one day, you just had to wait till the next and he might take it back. “Phony” was just the word for the campaign he ran.

What good are newspaper editorials if they don’t call a thing what it is?

Courage also has a less debatable meaning. When an armed man came into the Monitor newsroom in 1998, it was Belman who ushered him into an empty office. She was the city editor at the time, and she and a reporter engaged the man in conversation until Belman talked her way out of his presence and came to my office.

She dialed 911 while I went to inform the publisher so he could evacuate the other departments. Then, because of Felice’s smart work, I was able to walk across the newsroom telling employees to walk calmly out the door and clear of the building. The man shot no one, and the police took him into custody.

The following year, Belman cooked up an amazing project to ring out the old century. With input from readers, she compiled a quirky list of 100 people who played vital roles in shaping New Hampshire during the 20th century. Then she set out to lead the staff in profiling all 100 during 1999 – a rate of nearly two profiles a week on top of the regular workload.

This project, with its fresh looks at Carlton Fisk, Grace Metalious, David Souter, Steven Tyler, Christa McAuliffe and many others, became a book. Belman and I co-edited The New Hampshire Century and emceed a variety show at the Audi to celebrate its publication.

Because Belman has often been my editor over the years, I know why former Monitor journalists who now work for the Globe or the Washington Post or the New York Times say what they say about her.

In a nutshell the consensus is this: I like where I am, but I sure miss Felice.

Come tomorrow, the Monitor and its readers will miss her, too.

(Mike Pride can be reached at mpride@cmonitor.com.)

Legacy Comments25

Response to GWTW: Okay, I think I now understand. As much as it personally pains you, you are undertaking the thankless task of denigrating a 25-year career of outstanding journalistic accomplishment because you believe someone -- you don't really know who -- may (and I repeat may) have been mean to the greatly misunderstood former speaker, Bill O'Brien. Your selfless attempt to speak for all of us is truly remarkable!

Mean? No...I'm good with mean...politics is nasty business...complete fabrications by newspaper editors should be frowned upon though..you do agree with that, right?

You have a point but reporting and investigative journalism as in the case of O'Brien should apply to all misconduct by public servants, whether they are Democrats or Republicans. Would you not agree with that? The Monitor went out of their way to defend nepotism in the state employment ranks and sweep it under the rug as if it was not happening. When two supervisors at the DES were blogging at work all day on this site and others, they were not investigated by the Monitor and not one story appeared. So, picking and choosing who to report on based on politics is not necessarily good journalism. If the Monitor wants to really make impact, they should seek out the real stories rather than go after people with whom they disagree politically. Any news source should have some balance and the opinion of those at the source should not bleed into the "news".

Well GreyFox, outstanding journalistic accomplishment is in the eyes of the beholder. if the writing agrees with what you believe, then I can see why you would praise the writer. Great journalism examines all side of any topic. When your writing is one sided, you do not practice honest journalism, but instead promote your agenda. You cannot state that conservative media promotes their agenda without examining liberal media. But that is what the left does. What they accuse the right of they do. yet they will not admit it.

NO, wrong again. Outstanding journalism is being promoted and winning awards, having the respect of your peers and moving up to a prestigious job in a big city newspaper.

Rupert Murdoch is a God by those standards

I have to disagree. Your description of journalism would be one of self congratulation. In a free society, good journalism about the dissemination of information to people in a free society so that they can be informed and empowered to participate in society. When a reporter or editor purposely interjects their opinion into a story, that is unethical, be in conservative or liberal. Now, that slant can also be about placement of stories, cherry picking topics to be covered or targeting a particular party, group or politician in an attempt to destroy that person and affect the outcome of an election, for instance. Good journalism is offering verifiable information in an unbiased manner. It is also about editorial opinion and the freedom to express their opinion, on the opinion pages. Now, no matter what you think, the "news" in the Union Leader is pretty balanced, the editorial page leans to the right but they have opinion leaning to the left as well. The "news" in the Monitor is OK, but you see the Left leaning overtones. The choice of coverage always focuses on the "good" which is progressive and their main investigative stories go after the Tea Party, Republicans, etc. That is where the balance is lacking. For instance if the SEIU and SEA folks are being hypocrites, it should be reported with as much zeal as Bill O'Brien. Just because the editors might agree with one side and not the other should not affect the content and choice of what to cover. We see this in the way that networks craft the news. Fox does it to an extent, others do it to a more extreme extent on the other side.

I don't know what else you're reading, but by any standards, the Monitor is an excellent paper--it's coverage is lauded by journalism professionals. No paper is perfect--I'd wish for more national and international coverage, but what they provide is good, while their state-wide coverage is generally adequate, and their local news is excellent. What you really object to is their editorial stance, and think that it colors their news selection. While one can always point to individual stories to make such claims, over the long run, those claims don't hold up. The Monitor wouldn't be as highly regarded as it is if it didn't treat all sides fairly. Which begs the question: why are you reading the Monitor? The Union Leader presumably has an editorial page more to your liking--and one which is far more consistently doctrinaire than the Monitor's, given its steady diet of right wing columnists with nary a contrary note. And rarely does one see an editorial cartoon in the UL that holds a contrary view to that paper's editorial slant. The Monitor publishes an editorial cartoon with an opposing view to its own at least weekly. Your comment is filled with broad-brush complaints that you can't support.

You admit that you would wish for more national and international coverage, and their state wide coverage is adequate. That hardly is the description of an excellent paper. We read the CM for local coverage period. Now as far as why we post here, some of us like to post, just like you do. Of course the fact that anybody posts in the CM or on this page is something that the lefties detest.

I rather she weren't leaving, but I wish Felice the very best down in Boston. Her work has always been excellent. So now I'll have to subscribe to the Globe.

Thank you Felice, you made the Monitor much more edgy. And thank you for and Mike for hiring all the women that have worked at the Monitor over the years.

How about all of the men that have worked at the Monitor over the years?

Congratulations Felice and thank you for your decades of intelligent and unselfed service to the public here in Concord. Your thought and editorials brought a healing touch to the pages of the Monitor for which we are most grateful. We wish you all the best in Boston - where you'll be near another Monitor in the Back Bay :-)

I'm not sure Felice always got what she deserved out of the Monitor, but the Monitor surely got all it deserved -- and more -- out of Felice. She is a great colleague, a great boss and a great friend. This is the best break Boston has had since Jim Leyland's leadership of the 2013 Detroit Tigers!!!

I'd have much more respect for Belman if I knew it wasn't her decision to run the "Disrespect at the state of the state" front page photo..or that it wasn't her decision to have Annmarie parse the speakers expense report and make some very false claims. But I guess thats just me.

I don't know you, but if you're sticking up for that nitwit of a Speaker, I know enough to discount everything you just wrote.

You go, M.L.! Hit 'em in the muscle!

You missed the point here....this isnt about me. The 2 examples I gave were complete fabrications. Only one did they apologize for. I'm sticking up for all of us here. You dont want it to happen again...do you?

Yea, it's just you alright. Well maybe three or four others, but I notice they had the good manners to stay out of this thread.

Devil_Doc wrote: 04/02/2014 Are you people at the Monitor soft? .........I rest my case.

Oh, that's good. Take a partial quote, completely out of context and rest you're case. You learn that technique watching Fox News?

They are either soft or they are not...and that should not depend on if one is leaving. You called them soft for running an editorial...but its me who lacks manners. Where did you learn that technique?

No, MSNBC obviously.

I'd say goodbye to Felice, but it's not necessary since The Boston Globe is another newspaper I read regularly. And I'm not going to waste any wish of 'good luck', because her work ethic doesn't rely upon it. I will offer her my sincerest congratulations for the promotion, with gratitude for a job very well done at the Concord Monitor.

Seconded. We'll miss Felice up here, but look forward to seeing her work in the Globe from time to time.

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