The storytelling is different, but the news remains the same
By Bill Cleary
This is my fourth week serving as editor of The Independent, and it's been a wonderful experience to tell the stories of the people of the communities of Windham, Raymond and Gray. Unfortunately, it seems that one story I hoped could have made a difference didn't.
On Aug. 30, Lewis and Elizabeth Somers, Pennsylvania residents who summered in Raymond, were found dead in their home of what seems to be clear-cut case of carbon monoxide poisoning caused by an improperly vented generator in their basement. In that week's issue, published four days prior, I ran a story about the Windham Fire/Rescue Department's Carbon Monoxide Awareness Project. Although the program only covers Windham, Department Lt. Anthony Favreau provided a wealth of useful information on carbon monoxide poisoning for people anywhere, and I dutifully reported it in my story.
The most common cause of carbon monoxide poisoning in homes is improperly installed or vented fuel-burning appliances -- such as gasoline generators. It was my hope that, with Hurricane Irene on the horizon and winter not too far off, that the story would help people prepare their homes properly and perhaps save lives.
Unfortunately, that is not what happened. It is impossible to say exactly what happened at the Somers' home or what measures they did or did not take to prepare for the storm. But the odd timing of this coincidence and the fact that the new Independent is a community-focused newspaper have me feeling confused.
First, there's the shock of publishing a story about carbon monoxide poisoning and almost immediately hearing of two residents dying of it. It's an eerie feeling, and to say I am surprised doesn't even begin to cover it. In my career prior to working for this paper, I had never covered a crime, fire, disaster or death -- and my first story on such a subject is followed by a grim reminder of its importance.
Then there's the fact that, as a community servant, it is my job to report public safety information and to help spread word to keep everyone informed, safe and alive. In this case, I performed my duty and got my message out as clearly and as widely as is possible. I was not reporting in reaction to a tragedy, nor did the story simply get out too late. The warning seems simply to have fallen on deaf ears.
I am aware, of course, that not everyone in our communities reads The Independent. But, if there is a lesson to be learned from this tragedy, perhaps it is that newspapers can be quite-literally vital source of community information. In the tradition of the oldest rural newspapers, The Independent is no longer a source for hard news and government doings, but for stories about each other and information we can all use. We don't offer a 24/7 feed of national and world news, but serve as a weekly touchstone for everyone.
Perhaps I am making too much of this event, though. It is the nature of journalism and humanity that we only hear about bad things, and ''Carbon monoxide detector saves family's lives'' is not a story likely to see print in any paper. It seems that all I can do is remain dedicated to my work and try to make The Independent a source that you -- the reader -- can use.