Barnestorming gardner news sale stirs nostalgia for small-town newspaper – news – telegram.com – worcester, ma

On Monday it was announced GateHouse Media was purchasing The Gardner News. The announcement took me by surprise, but at the same time, it made a lot of sense. GateHouse Media owns many newspapers in Central Massachusetts, including the Telegram & Gazette. It can bring a lot to a small community paper. In return, it gets a family-owned publication, established in the community since 1869.

I was fortunate to have worked at that small paper. Anyone writing today who has not spent time at a small-town publication has really missed something. I know there are those in our business who complain about their first job, the low pay, the community news, the lack of resources, but I was glad to be there.


When I was at The Gardner News, the paper was a big deal in the community. It was at the heart of everything going on in Gardner. From its three-story building on the corner of Vernon and Central streets, the paper had a commanding view of the city’s main commercial district. Looking out of the newsroom windows on the third floor, you could see City Hall and much of the downtown. I would often get up from my desk and walk to the windows, secretly hoping something interesting and newsworthy would happen down below in West Gardner Square. Although my timing was never good, there were reporters who saw accidents, arrests being made and many odd incidents from those windows.

I enjoy working for a larger city paper, but working for The Gardner News, I appreciated the feeling of being truly part of the community. I also loved that as I sat at my desk, at a certain time of day, I could feel the presses rolling three stories below. Down there, as bundles of papers went out the side door to be delivered by motor route, people would be lining up at the front door to get the papers they would deliver on their walking routes.

The newspaper was like a family. Everyone there was part of the newsgathering. It was advertising head Jim Murphy and his team who alerted us that the space shuttle Challenger had blown up. They were watching the launch on their little television. The paper was about to be printed, but we held the presses. We got help breaking other stories from delivery drivers, people in the production department, and even paper boys.

C. Gordon Bell was the publisher when I worked there. His wife, Alberta, was publisher when the paper was sold. It was their family’s paper, and that is pretty cool. They employed Mary Moreau, one of the earliest women reporting in northern Central Massachusetts, who is retired, but still occasionally writing. The paper attracted reporters from all over, but liked to hire local. Mark Arsenault from Templeton started there, He now works for the Boston Globe. Several Gardner News employees found their way to the Telegram & Gazette. I don’t know if they all appreciated the job as much as I did, but I know some who give it prominent play on their resume.

When I worked there, I was called on to cover news, write obituaries, take photographs and develop the film, reboot the computer system when it went down, and go up on the roof to sweep the Associated Press satellite dish whenever it was covered with snow. Whatever it took, we did it.

I started writing for the paper as a town correspondent, tapping out stories on the manual Smith Corona typewriter I got for my high school graduation. My giant leap forward was when the paper bought correspondents IBM Selectric electric typewriters.

When I was promoted to full-time reporter in 1984, I gave up studying computer programming, and jumped at the chance to earn $160 per week as a journalist. I knew I wanted to be a reporter, but what I never expected was the semi-celebrity status reporters enjoyed in a small town. As a correspondent, relatively few people knew me. As a full-timer, people were sure I had the inside dope when major stories were breaking.

When I took my daily walk from the office to City Hall, I would run into all sorts of curious people wondering why there were police cars on Elm Street, what the mayor was up to, was Conant Ball Company closing or did I know their neighbor so and so. I was part of their daily routine.

Working for a small paper you are the cliche big fish in a small pond. Whether it was Jim Paulin, who later went to work for a small paper in a fishing village in Alaska, Omer Cormier, who may have been covering sports since Ted Williams was a kid, or Ed Johnson, who had been occupying his desk in the 1950s, and was still covering courts in the 1990s, people knew our names. Even today, when I go to the grocery store in Gardner, people still call to me, "Hey Barnes! What’s news?"

The sale of The Gardner News to GateHouse Media is a pretty big deal in Gardner. There will be changes. The paper needs to be modernized, especially its online presence. As it moves forward, I hope what will remain are the really good small-town attributes that have always made it an important part of the community.