By Norwood Long, Standard Correspondent
On Thursday night, John P. Gregg, local news editor for The Valley News, was the third speaker at the Norman Williams Library in the “Your Local Media” series created by retired newsmen Bob Hager and John Mathews.
Gregg, who grew up partly in the Upper Valley, worked for papers in Boston and elsewhere before becoming a reporter here. He spoke about the challenges of covering 46 towns on both sides of the Connecticut, and of providing balanced and varied stories for people in the Upper Valley with a wide range of experiences and interests. Although Gregg’s role as a columnist, and his own particular interest, is political, he admitted that the most feedback he has received on a story was the variety of ways peanut butter can be used in a sandwich. (His favorite? Peanut butter and bacon.)
Despite a general shift in the U.S. from print media to digital delivery, the circulation of The Valley News is holding fairly steady at around 16,000. Their website, however, is growing in readership. John Gregg’s guess is that one reason the print delivery is holding steady is the relatively shallow penetration of high speed Internet in the communities of the Upper Valley. Another is that The Valley News has no real daily paper competition in this area.
It’s important, said Gregg, to have variety on the front page. For example, a recent issue featured the closing of Bentley’s Restaurant, fast trains, the proposed gas tax, and an alternative to cremation (“dissolving corpses”). His own particular fascination, he admitted, is with bear stories, a taste shared with Vermont’s governor Peter Shumlin. “When he came for an editorial board meeting he had just seen three bears,” said Gregg, “and he really wanted to share his story. He said he was so excited he jumped out of bed and ran outdoors, and he sleeps, as he put it, in his ‘birthday suit.’ Well I wrote the story up, but after thinking about it I said he ran out barefoot. True enough as far as it goes.”
Being a news editor uses different muscles than being a reporter, said Gregg. “When a reporter visited a local hotel he called one of the chairs ‘worn’ and the hotel owner called to complain, so I visited the hotel.” The owner, it turned out, didn’t really want a retraction or a letter in the paper. He just wanted Gregg to recognize local sensitivities. Likewise, when a young reporter described the effects of a fire he concluded with a description of a pet snake that had died. “The owner of the snake called, upset. That caused a lot of discussion in the newsroom, and we agreed we wouldn’t have done it if the pet had been a dog or a cat.” Local sensitivities.
The paper is fortunate, said Gregg, to be owned by the second or third generation of a family that is more interested in good reporting and balanced coverage than in prosecuting a particular agenda. Although the Dwight family, who also own the Concord Monitor and the Recorder of Greenfield, Mass., are prominent Republicans, they don’t try to influence the position of the paper or the stories it carries. “We are,” said Gregg, “balanced by design.”
The final speaker in the series will be Steve Zind of Vermont Public Radio on March 14, 2013.
John P. Gregg of The Valley News (Norwood Long Photo)