Haverhill Cultural Council Grant a Cure for News Amnesia

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Haverhill Cultural Council, a local agency which is supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.

Puzzle graphic by Darren Whittingham.

Philosopher George Santayana is credited with saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” WHAV, with the help of the Haverhill and Massachusetts Cultural Councils, is addressing local amnesia.

WHAV was recently awarded a grant by the councils to expand on its “Haverhill Heritage Series.” Rather than produce only stand-alone stories on historical subjects, the radio station said history will “become woven into the very fabric of WHAV—on the air; on an expanded, fully searchable website; and new venues such as Apple TV.” Listeners and readers now find more historical information appearing in news stories. The added background necessarily puts news stories into context, helping to explain the importance or ramifications of subjects.

“While underreported, there is growing friction between old-time ‘townies’ and the city’s ‘newbies’ about approaches to problem solving. Old-timers are dismissed for their so-called negative attitudes and newcomers are criticized for failing to heed the lessons of local history,” said Tim Coco, WHAV’s president and general manager. “There is truth on both sides. Adding background and historical context to news stories helps reveal it.”

Take obituaries, for example. In other media, death notices are accepted only as paid advertising, unseen by reporters and usually omitting a person’s contributions to the city’s history and culture. Sometimes they are written in such a way to conceal important information.

In the “old days,” 20 to 30 years ago, reporters would talk to funeral directors each morning. When someone died “unexpectedly” or “after a brief illness,” reporters were trained to push for details. Was it a drug overdose, suicide or accident? Obituaries were published not merely as a courtesy to families, but rather as the news items they were. Reporters would also consult archives to present a complete picture.

Good examples may be found by comparing non-profit WHAV’s coverage with advertising versions of the recent deaths of Emily “Betty” Shanahan, David M. Gordon, Francis J. Perry and Frederick E. Malcolm.

Frederick E. Malcolm, 93, died Dec. 22. He was instrumental in founding the Ward Hill Industrial Park.

Frederick E. Malcolm, 93, died Dec. 22. He was instrumental in founding the Ward Hill Industrial Park.

Only WHAV told audiences Shanahan was a full city assessor and was presented with a Citizenship Award in 1983, Gordon played a large role in bringing the Haverhill Journal newspaper to the city in 1957, Perry wrote the prayer still read before every Haverhill City Council meeting or that Malcolm was instrumental in founding the Ward Hill Industrial Park and helped bring the city its “All America City” designation. Listeners even heard Malcolm tell the stories in his own voice.

Omissions in paid obituaries in other media are not necessarily sinister. Absent reporters to write these stories, funeral directors and distant family members are often unaware of the facts.

To the unfortunate chagrin of many, WHAV news stories also use history to illustrate duplicate spending by agencies, public employees with criminal records and “new” ideas that can be shown to have actually been previously unsuccessful.

Such local underwriters as Haverhill Bank and Merrimack Valley Economic Development Council more than matched the recently awarded $3,000 Haverhill Cultural Council grant. It is further augmented by in-kind research generously provided by historian David Goudsward and local listeners.

“Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual,” Santayana wrote.

This program is supported in part by a grant from the Haverhill Cultural Council, a local agency which is supported by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, a state agency.

4 thoughts on “Haverhill Cultural Council Grant a Cure for News Amnesia

  1. Congrats on the grant Tim. I disagree on the obit opinion somewhat. Where do the family’s rights come into play regarding their loved one’s death ? Do they not have a right to privacy ? The family writes the obit that they submit to the funeral director. I agree it is important to give the deceased the credit for their accomplishments but where do we draw the line ?

    As the divide within the city is concerned, the old vs. new battle is happening everywhere. Take Andover for example. Some of the older townies are being forced out of their homes due to higher taxes levied due to spending approved and desired by the newbies, no ? Older townies are content with the way things are while newbies desire those shiny new facility buildings. I agree somewhat because you can’t put out a fire with an old fire truck that doesn’t work. But there is a happy medium if people are willing to talk to each other.

    You can’t blame the older townies for their skepticism. Haverhill leaders have been negligent in taking care of their assets over the years, leading to crisis management being the norm and costing much more than regular maintenance would have. A recent story in a local paper, proves that city leaders ignored serious issues that were known at the time of construction with the brand new police station. Only now is the city dealing with some of these issues, 15 years later, having to spend significant sums of money on a fairly new building. I am scared to think what we don’t know regarding older buildings that may pop up due only to a serious situation emerging. See city hall this past week.

    • With respect to obits, most include the cause of death and I agree it is the family’s decision when deciding what is to be included in the obit; however, many of the deceased were strong, influential people and should be given credit for some wonderful things with respect to their own personal accomplishments and to the growth of the City. They should be recognized at this final time. If the deceased’s relatives don’t want to do this, perhaps a piece like the one published by WHAV.net when Fred Malcolm passed is the way to go. A death in the family is difficult and I suspect that rather than consciously omitting accomplishments in an obit, grief plays no small part in the information that is given to the funeral home.

      I must say, though, when I see “died suddenly or unexpectedly at home” and the deceased is a young person, I suspect this is code for “drug overdose.” Don’t know what can be done with that one, except to say that I applaud all of the speakers at the HOPE (Haverhill Overdose Prevention Education) meeting at Consentino School this past January. The speakers had a problem, addressed the issue, and they are getting on with their lives. Hopefully this will mean they will be stronger for their experience and will go on to be meaningful and productive people. I especially applaud Charles Rosa who lost two sons to drug abuse. What courage it must have taken for this man to speak at that meeting.

      Concerning the repair of municipal buildings — whether one is an “older townie” or a “young, medium of older newbie,” if City Fathers do not intend to be pro-active in their review and repair of City assets, they should come right out and say this, address the issue once and for all, defend their position (if they have one), and be done with it. Saying they regularly inspect buildings and there is a mysterious slush fund somewhere in the budget to cover the cost of repairs and then to wring their hands wondering where they are going to find the money every time a substantial repair must be made (like the roof on the police station) is really over the top. We deserve better than this and let us not forget that the financial health and desirability of our City is at stake here.

  2. Congratulations upon receipt of the Massachusetts Cultural Council grant. The Heritage Series is “One Stop Shopping” with respect to the history of the City of Haverhill; and you, Tim, have gathered a wealth of information and present it in a way that is interesting and informative for everyone. I regularly send interesting Heritage Series stories to relatives who have left the area, and to friends who still live in Haverhill but who may have forgotten the history of an issue. It is surprising how many people are not aware of the history associated with Winnekenni Castle, Urban Renewal, etc.

    I also agree with you regarding obituaries. Cause of death, especially when it results from a sudden death, drug overdose or accident is local news in itself and should be made known, if possible. There could be much more information provided about folks who have passed away; their contributions to our Great Country and The City of Haverhill should be mentioned and honored in their obituary. If not then, when? It also helps to memorialize the men and women who contributed so much of their time and money to benefit everyone. Expanding obituaries to include their accomplishments would go a long way in bringing the ‘townies’ and ‘newbies’ together to understand the dynamics of our City.