Local coverage of meetings is crucial

January 20, 2020

Originally published in the Times Argus on January 14, 2020
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Most people who read their local newspaper are grateful for the coverage. Sometimes, it is quaint and folksy. Other times it is gritty. Only on occasion does our local news coverage border on scary, which is a blessing.

Among those articles, there are regularly what we refer to as “meeting stories.” We attend these meetings to chronicle the decisions that are being made by elected (and appointed) officials on our behalf. One of the greatest tragedies of a shrinking newsroom is: We don’t have enough reporters to be at all the meetings.

But this time of year, we’re around. We are upholding that tenet of the public trust by serving as the watchdog. Budgets require it. How your tax dollars are spent is a laborious process for towns and cities to hammer out, but it is equally mind-numbing for journalists ­ most of whom are assigned to multiple communities. That’s a lot of numbers, percentage increases (rarely decreases) and line items to keep track of.

And every winter, in the months leading up to Town Meeting Day, when budgets are being presented to boards, hearings are scheduled, and warnings and ballots are put into place, the newsroom is always abuzz over three points of interest.

First, there are rarely members of the public attending the meetings. The level of engagement is often limited to a gadfly or two (usually former public officials), the PEG access camera person and a reporter. That’s a generalization, of course, but many officials reading this are nodding in acknowledgment that the public, in large part, is not involved in how budgets are formed.

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