At Large : The news business
This evening, the first of three discussions of the news media will take place at the Chilmark Community Center. The program, sponsored by The Martha's Vineyard Times and the center, will feature prominent news reporters, with experience in television, radio, and print journalism. All three are summer neighbors. They are here this summer to focus all of their energy on vacationing, in the slack water between the end of the primary season and the autumn beginning of the last leg of the race for the White House. But, the news business being what it is, and journalists being the helplessly obsessed creatures that they are, it's hard for them to resist any invitation to talk about their work.
The occasion for these discussions is The Times' 25th year in the community news business. It seems a long time to keep watch on and document the shenanigans of a small group of people. But, we've enjoyed it, and the rewards have been many.
I've lived here more than 38 years now, 33 of those years as a reporter and editor, whose only job has been to keep an eye on his neighbors. I can tell you that they are a prickly bunch, viciously determined to resist mainland America and its designs upon Martha's Vineyard. I can tell you also that over these four decades, and especially during the last 25 years, the Vineyard has become more attached to the mainland and more dependent upon it for sustenance and, in ways that would cause most Islanders to recoil in horror, for illumination and stimulation. As all this change has happened, it has changed the news game, even the niche news game as it is played on Martha's Vineyard.
I don't need to recite the ways in which we Vineyarders have come more and more to resemble our mainland contemporaries. A letter to the editor of The Times a week or two or so suggests the theme. The writer complained that I shouldn't publish letters having to do with the presidential election campaigns, or indeed letters about mainland affairs, political or otherwise. The letters, he wrote, should be about Island affairs, period. In a note, I explained that the letters columns are for Islanders to talk about what interests them. Like it or not, for good or ill, repulsive as the notion may be to some, regional, national, and international affairs have become, at times, of consuming interest to Islanders, who are not nearly as insular as they were when The Times began to keep watch.
As it is with this community, so it is with the community newspaper. The summer neighbors who are the stars of this series are part of a news gathering and reporting apparatus that is undergoing painful change. Those of us in the business are wildly interested, and perplexed, by what's been going on and consequently in what these sharp participant/observers think may lie ahead. We thought you too would be interested to discuss these topics with our guests.
This evening's discussion is with Chris Wallace, son of Mike Wallace, both Vineyard Haven summer residents. Chris Wallace is currently the host of "FOX News Sunday," a public affairs program based in Washington, D.C. He has interviewed important newsmakers, former and current presidents, and presidential candidates. He also contributes political and election news coverage.
Mr. Wallace began his journalism career, one supposes, at dinner with his father, when his father was not causing his international interviewees to squirm in their chairs elsewhere in the world. But, then Chris Wallace got paid employment with the Boston Globe, then NBC as a reporter in 1975, on to the White House as NBC's chief White House correspondent, then to ABC, before his current billet.
On July 20, it's Mara Liasson. Mara is the national political correspondent for NPR's All Things Considered and Morning Edition, and a regular panelist on FOX News. I call her Mara, because I met her early in her career when she did dazzling service as a summer reporter at the Vineyard Gazette, where I was the managing editor in the 1970s.
On August 3, Charles Sennott will be the featured journalist. Mr. Sennott left the Boston Globe this spring to become executive editor and vice president of Global News Enterprises, the first US-based website devoted exclusively to international news. It is set to launch early next year. Mr. Sennott began work at the Globe in 1993. He served as the paper's Middle East bureau chief in Jerusalem, as the European bureau chief in London and most recently documented the rise of the Taliban and the failed hunt for Osama bin Laden.
The Times, 25 years old and looking forward to another quarter century and more, has lots of questions to ask our guests. We suspect you, fascinated by the news business and its involvement in your lives, will also have questions. Now's your chance.