A sign of the times?


First came the high winds. They blew hard against the “MV Times” sign above the entry to our newsroom, leaving it hanging by one rusty nail, twisting in the wind. 

“A sign of the times,” quipped a colleague, who, given the crisis in local newspapers across the country, was talking about more than just a hand-painted wooden sign hanging on a downward tilt.

Then came the rains. Two days of record storm surge flooded Five Corners in Vineyard Haven, and left up to six inches of water inside the first-floor of our newsroom on Beach Road.

“This is getting biblical,” a staffer observed as he sloshed his way through the desks seeking higher ground.

And it all culminated with a crash. Our main server, which stores all the news organization’s digital files, and our archive, short-circuited, leaving us with a black box that had a little red light flickering a warning, and a chirping alarm that was faint, but distressing.

“You’ve got to be kidding me! What’s next, locusts?” cried a member of the team, who actually inserted two well-placed f-bombs into those sentences for full effect as to just how devastating a server crash can be in a newsroom, especially when a backup hard drive has failed as well.

So it seems my first days as the publisher of The MV Times have brought a level of calamity straight out of the Book of Exodus. 

But along with these biblical plagues, there also came a few miracles last week that have renewed some faith in this resilient team that reports, edits, and produces the news that serves you, our readers, day in and day out. 

There is truly a light at the end of this parable, but when that server crashed last Monday and we all were left staring blankly at the blinking red light, it felt like darkness had descended, and we were among the forsaken. On Tuesday morning, we were not sure we would be able to publish the paper, a fate that would have been an insult to the decades of publishing through blizzards, hurricanes, and pandemics. 

Come hell or high water, I knew we had to get the paper out. To fail to publish on time is a mortal sin in the holy book of journalism. But we had only 24 hours to figure it out before the paper was due at the printer on Wednesday, so we could deliver it to you on Thursday!

Perhaps the best thing we did in navigating this crisis was to stay calm. First, we assessed the damage to the server. Tara Kenny, who coordinates our IT and operations, had a one-word report: “Bleak.” So we called a Boston-based tech firm that specializes in restoring servers. They told us it was unlikely we would be able to recover what was lost on the drive, and that we would have to ship it to California, which could take weeks or perhaps even months. We knew that wouldn’t work. 

Then we reached out to a local tech legend, or perhaps staying in the biblical theme, I should say a “saint,” named Rick Mello. He had built the server more than 10 years ago for The MV Times. But five years ago he had moved on, and now heads up IT at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. The servers had not really been maintained since. Our design director, Kristofer Rabasca, called him, and shared the crisis we were in. On his own time, Mello met me early the next morning, and picked up the fried server. He brought it to his home, and that night he began to breathe life back into it, eventually recovering almost 90 percent of the data. Some fast-thinking members of The MV Times team did their part, finding old files to serve as templates for the pages in the paper. 

Meanwhile, our staff was coming together to get all the copy ready early, so we could flow it into the page templates, and said prayers that the server would be salvaged in time. Instead of waiting around, the team started cleaning up and drying out the offices. A few amazing do-gooders began working together to build a new closet for our technology, which is high and dry thanks to carpenter Josh Flanders and electrician Cole Powers, who came to the rescue. And through it all, our new owner, Steve Bernier, just kept answering the phone from his office over at Cronig’s, saying, “We got this. Don’t worry. Do what you need to do.”

And so, on the seventh day, the server was restored. The page templates were working, and the team somehow pulled together the stories for the paper in record time so it could be delivered to the printer in Connecticut on time to be bundled and trucked back over to the Island in time to be distributed to your home on Thursday am, or to the stores or newsstands where you pick up the paper. You would not have known about this story unfolding behind the scenes, but I hope you do know you are lucky to have a group of individuals who work at The MV Times who believe in bringing you the first rough draft of this Island’s history every week in the paper, and every day online. They are all local heroes, and they proved it last week. 

The paper they produced was not perfect, but it definitely captured all of the big themes I hope we can take on during my tenure as publisher. 

At the center of the paper was the story about affordable housing, a story I am hoping we can stay focused on. We chronicled a group of advocates, including real estate agents, who had traveled to Boston and climbed the steps of the State House to support a new legislative initiative that would earmark $4 billion for affordable housing statewide. There is perhaps no more challenging and important issue for this Island than housing, and that was the right story to feature on the front page for my first edition as publisher. I would love to hear from you if you have ideas on how we should be covering the housing crisis, and how we might convene stakeholders and those most deeply affected by this issue. 

And in the hard news lead slot, there was a complex story of a public official being held accountable. I believe we need to be strong but also fair when reporting on wrongdoing by public servants. In this case, it was a former fire chief who had been dogged by allegations of impropriety and let go by one town, only to be hired by another, and then once again find himself in the crosshairs of the law. He was detained at Logan Airport and brought back to the courthouse in Edgartown, where he pleaded not guilty to charges of more misconduct, this time involving a sex tape. 

We thought long and hard about how we could report the story without sensationalizing it. We tried to keep in mind the responsibility we have to report the story accurately and with compassion for all involved, and to focus on the nuance of what happens when a man described as a good firefighter who served the Island is also allegedly a predator who has crept into our community. We also have to remember he deserves his day in court, and so we will stay on this story.

There were other stories too, including the surprise announcement that Beach Road Weekend, a three-day music festival, would not be held this summer. There are many fans of the concert series who were profoundly disappointed, but a vocal minority of critics on the Island were pleased to hear the news. It seemed the organizer was losing money, and had grown fatigued by tangling with local officials who had thrown so many barriers in his way. For me, this announcement merits reflection. We lost a great concert series, a real boon to local businesses, and we might do well to ask ourselves if that was for the greater good, or for a minority who were strongly opposed. How can The MV Times play a role in bringing people together to discuss issues like this, and be sure all sides are heard? That is something we will be working on, and we would love to hear your ideas.

And there were stories of local heroes who were pinned with new insignia in the Coast Guard, and the boys high school swim team winning a regional championship. There were poignant stories of loved ones lost and their lives shared in the obituary section. And the story of nine seals who had mysteriously washed ashore, leaving experts wondering what caused the phenomenon. There were stories of local government in action, with coverage of town planning boards and the board of education, and there were tales of the lore of fishing and what impact the recent beach erosion might have on sport fishing. All of these articles in the paper are what make up the story of our Island, and under new ownership, I want to assure you, we are committed to making sure we can keep bringing you these stories. 

Our challenge will be to embrace this changing Island, which is growing every day in its diversity. Indeed, the Island population has doubled since the years before COVID to an estimated 20,000 year-round residents. In the most recent survey out of the schools, 30 percent of high school students reported speaking a language other than English at home. In the Tisbury School, that number climbed to an estimated 70 percent. The vast majority of these students are Brazilian, and The MV Times is dedicating itself to doing a better job covering this vibrant community, and hearing more from them about their hopes and dreams, and their concerns. 

There is also a vibrant and growing year-round Black community, which as we all know is part of a long and proud tradition of Black families on the Island. There are more and more members of the Black community who are now choosing to stay year-round, adding to an already vital community and rich heritage. We have more work to celebrate that history, and we have to do a better job honoring the Wampanoag tribe, and making sure we are documenting their stories. 

And, of course, as always, The MV Times will need to serve all the working people of this Island who live here year-round, and who make up what this paper called in its founding mission statement “real Islanders.” We want The MV Times to be real news for real Islanders, and we will be reaching out to every aspect of the community to hear how we can best do that. 

So please consider this the first in a series of columns I will be writing about the future of The MV Times, and how we are hoping to transform the news organization to better serve the Island community.

At the end of last week, after we finally had the paper out on the newsstands, we were already planning for this week’s paper. And on Friday, as the sun began to go down, I was walking out with the same colleague who had suggested our fallen sign might be a “sign of the times.” I pointed out that maybe our new friend and neighbor, Cole Powers, the electrician, had given us a new “sign of the times”: Cole had not only helped us to rehang the sign, but he had donated and installed new spotlights that serve to illuminate the “MV Times” sign more brightly than ever, even in these long, dark nights in the bleak midwinter. 

So, as the bible says, Let there be light! 

Charles M. Sennott is the newly named publisher of The MV Times. An awardwinning journalist, a best-selling author, and founder and editor-in-chief of the nonprofit news organization the GroundTruth Project, Sennott lives in Chilmark.


  1. Well said, Charlie. Bravo to you, the MV Times team, and the community that rallied behind you in a crisis.

  2. Welcome to the wonderful and amazing Charlie Sennott! You have just run the gauntlet and passed with flying colors. It’s smooth sailing for the M V Times from now on! With you at the helm, we’re in for great reporting, storytelling and community building.

  3. Thank you one and all!! Until I read this
    I had absolutely no idea what the MV Times had gone through to deliver that week’s paper.
    It really was an event of
    Biblical proportions.
    It sounds like now they are prepared for whatever happens next. And you know there will be a next time…..

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