Mayor DiNatale Visits FSU Classroom


Timothy Foley-
On Thursday Oct. 22, Fitchburg Mayor Stephen DiNatale visited Dr. Wafa Unus’ News Reporting and Writing class. The reason for the visit was to have a discussion with students about the media’s relationship with politicians, and give students the opportunity to ask the Mayor questions in a town hall format. The class itself as a whole is meant to further students’ understanding of how to cover news stories and write in a journalistic manner. 
DiNatale opened with the conversation by talking about the balance between print media and social media. He began with the practices of how things are reported on social news-feeds, and transitioned into how that affects print media. 
“Most of the time, no offense to social media, it’s wrong. There may be a kernel of accuracy in there but for the most part it’s not true. We’ve given a platform to people who never would have had that ability before the handheld, the laptop, Facebook, Twitter, and other mechanisms that are out there. Someone says this is what happened and it’s automatically assumed that this is what happened without anyone corroborating what’s been said. Newspapers are driven I think by social media. Part of this is economics. They have to because they don’t hire as many people anymore. They’re trimming staff and their revenue is being trimmed. Print media just doesn’t provide the revenue that it used to.”
Part of the phenomenon DiNatale references here is the “News Desert,” meaning areas that can no longer offer a local news outlet, cutting down on the amount of local news coverage. This has been a growing trend in the United States as the desire and need for print media dwindles. Largely anything of interest to a consumer that would be in the paper could be found just as easily online, including weather, job listings, and important news updates. The Fitchburg area has been undergoing a similar shift in recent years. 
“Dan Monahan is the guy that I deal with, a terrific reporter, but that’s it,” said DiNatale, referring to the Sentinel and Enterprise which is now owned by the Lowell Sun. The paper has two full time reporters servicing Fitchburg, Leominster, and several surrounding towns in northern Worcester County. Fitchburg and Leominster alone are home to approximately 83,000 residents. A lack in staff among any publication leads to editing errors and an omission of fact checking.
From there DiNatale talked about the importance of politicians having a strong relationship with members of the press. 
“They spread the message. They have the ability to get the word out. What’s particularly important for me is the ability to have that trust factor where I can say to the person ‘look, off the record’ and if I say off the record it’s off the record, I know it’s not going to appear in the paper. I tell them this so they can draft their column with that underlying message, but please don’t ascribe it to me because it just won’t look good. Sometimes you give it to them and you say ‘please, please print that’ because that’s what’s really going on here. They understand, they’ve been in the game long enough to know how it works. It’s comforting to have that kind of relationship.” 
The relationship between a politician and a member of the press is important in that it gives the Mayor an outlet they know will relay the accurate story, and it gives the press a source that they know will give them reliable information, all of which is ultimately to the benefit of the region, keeping readers informed and creating a more knowledgeable community. 
DiNatale then went on to describe the communal factor in having a local news source. 
“I’m a bit of a dinosaur. I’m not sure that people think about the newspaper like we used to. The beauty of the newspaper is that you see your picture in the paper. You’re the person who’s running the foodbank and there’s going to be a picture of that and there you are. It gets the message out that you’re doing something like that.” 
The common underlying theme from DiNatale’s conversation with Dr. Unus’ Thursday morning class is that a good relationship between politicians and the press is a sturdy foundation for good communal news reporting. Local news outlets however have seen a decrease in engagement due to an increase in news available online through social media, resulting in smaller staffs and less coverage. The less coverage on a city or region means less engagement, and it acts as a vicious cycle where less engagement means less revenue for the paper, making it difficult for local news to have any hope of climbing back into the picture when it comes to reporting on the surrounding communities.