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May 15, 2007

The Darkened Sun

by at 3:37 pm.

The Sun’s failure to cover the Revolving Museum’s ARTventure Series opening event Saturday night, May 12, which drew four to five hundred by my rough estimate, reveals that the paper still doesn’t get it.

Yes, the paper had a solid cover preview package in the previous Thursday’s Steppin’ Out section. But any event that draws hundreds of people downtown, especially on an unseasonably chilly Saturday night, is a significant news story.

I’ve been in the news business more than four decades, including four years as Sunday editor of The Sun, so I know a good story when I see one. And this one had everything: a outpouring of community effort, with close to a thousand volunteers creating scores of murals, art works, performances and, even, free cake. Plus, opportunities for more thrilling photos than a month of pet pages.

ARTventures joined Lowell’s ethnic, student, art and cultural communities for the first night of a summer of special events. The audience represented the full mosaic of the city, including the mayor and city manager.

Everybody was there, but The Sun.

The paper’s failure represents more than a one-time oversight. Its management has yet to fully realize that the survival and prospering of Lowell as a “destination city” depends on its art and cultural communities — its creative industries. If they don’t grow from where they are now, the city will whither, and so will The Sun.

What to do?

The Sun has a full-time business reporter, Tom Spoth, who’s one of the best on the staff. Similarly, it needs a full-time creative industries reporter.

I’m not talking about someone who previews arts events, reviews MRT productions and writes features about nude models, all of which is well handled by the Lifestyle and Metro staff.

The Sun needs someone who covers arts and culture as news — as business news, lifestyle news, metro news and front-page news. Someone who knows the difference between Impressionism and Expressionism, be-bop and boogie-woogie, someone who can read a cultural organization’s annual report and who understands the relationships between the arts, tourism, entertainment, business and politics. And someone who can generate stories the way Spoth does in business.

Obviously, the reporter needs a commitment from the editors, the publisher and The Sun’s chairman Kendall Wallace, a commitment of money and news hole.

I know some of the counter-arguments: Where’s the money coming from, and where’s the news hole? I’ve run newsroom budgets as big if not bigger than The Sun’s. The money’s there. So is the space. (Most of The Column’s endless take Sunday on Dracut’s city council could have been teased in the print paper and published on the Web, for example.) It just takes a commitment to do it.

So, chairman Wallace, publisher Mark O’Neil and editor James Campanini, it’s up to you. Do you cover what’s truly important to the future of Lowell, or do you limp along missing the big stories?

6 Responses to “The Darkened Sun”

  1. Marianne Says:

    This is a great observation. I went to the ARTventure on Saturday and had a great time - I was much more impressed with the event than I thought I’d be. I looked at Sunday’s Sun to see what they had to say about it and there was nothing. I was pretty suprised because I thought that the paper would love to cover a successful event that reflects well on Lowell.

  2. Raider to Lion Says:

    For starters, if Spoth is one of the best reporters for the Sun the paper has serious problems. He used to cover Chelmsford and couldn’t find a news story if it hit him.

    As for a good arts reporter, they already have one in Dave Perry but they moved him off that beat last year. Bad move. And the paper spends far too much time, energy, and news hole on politics. I used to be a political reporter and always enjoy reading about it, but the general public does not care; they want to know what is happening, not how it’s made.

    I’ll tell you the real problem, as someone who grew up in Lowell, left for 13 years and then came back (albeit to Chelmsford): there are not enough “new” people in the city–and the region–to counterbalance the old guard that still thinks there are crowds going to the 5 and 10 on Thursday nights. The area’s perception of Lowell is that it still a war zone to boot, and thus only the enlightened will venture into any place other than one of the myriad dives.

    And the city needs more and better mid-range non-chain restaurants/pubs to draw a crowd downtown on a regular basis.

  3. Jason Says:

    In Campanini’s defense he’s out of town in Denver at conference (see: “Community Forum”). Just the type of perk he’d slam if it were a public official. You know, all the “extra” work the private sector employees he touts have to put in. I find it rather ironic it may have contributed to them to missing this story.

  4. Bob F Says:

    One person in Denver means a down town event can not be covered? You can bet if there was some sort of violence associated with the event the Sun and our fine radio station would have been all over it, like David Ortiz on a hanging curve ball! ArtVentures was great and represented the best of what’s up in Lowell and when it was over many people stopped somewhere d’town for something to eat and drink which also reflects well on what has been taking place here in Lowell. For the city is to take the next giant step ahead the Sun needs to develop a far better understanding of the roles the creative economy can and does play here in Lowell and in other cities in the area determined to remake themselves, like Providence, RI. Carping about teachers and by extension denigrating the schools, seems to be the Sun’s flavor of the month, instead.

  5. inside/outside Says:

    Let’s see how the Doors Open Lowell coverage goes this weekend…

  6. Jason Says:

    Bob, I was being sarcastic. very, very sarcastic. However, from what I’ve been told by Sun staff members, if it doesn’t go through (or come from) the top it doesn’t get coverage.

    Personally I can’t heap enough praise on the Arts community for what it does for Lowell. Keep it up.

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