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Column: A 13-Year Lesson in the Value of Accountability

Jeff Good

Jeff Good

West Lebanon

When I joined the Valley News 13 years ago, I had a dream of playing a leadership role at a newspaper serving the community where our kids would grow up. That dream has come true — and then some.

Today is the last day my name will appear on the masthead of the paper that has become so much more than a place to work. Before I depart, I wanted to say a few words, the most important of which are these: Thank you.

It wasn’t long after I joined the staff that I had my first lesson in what the Valley News means to this community. After a brief stint as a reporter, I became local news editor in January 2001 in the same week that two beloved Dartmouth professors, Half and Susanne Zantop, were murdered in their Etna home.

The tragedy immediately became a media sensation, with journalists pouring in from all points of the compass to tell a story of savagery in a peaceful New England town. Some of those journalists wasted no time in confirming people’s worst impressions, publishing unfounded rumor and hurtful speculation before jetting off to leave the Zantops’ family, friends and community to suffer the lingering effects.

At the Valley News, we had heard those same rumors, and it was sometimes painful to pick up our out-of-town competition and read “scoops” that — if true — we would have put on the front page. But we chose not to lower our standards, and in the end, heard from more than a few readers that they were glad we had stood firm.

Before joining the Valley News, I had spent the bulk of my career at a larger newspaper, a place with impeccable standards but also a place where I rarely encountered the people who felt the impact of stories and photos we produced. The Upper Valley, I soon found, is different. No matter what we publish, I’m going to run into someone — at my kid’s soccer match, in line at the grocery store, across the pew at church — who has a personal stake in it. That brings a high level of accountability, and a healthy one.

We don’t always measure up, and readers justifiably give us the devil for our mistakes. The most famous of them, adding an extra “s” to the newspaper’s name, resulted from an editor’s errant click of the computer mouse late one night. We probably deserved more grief for the headline another editor wrote during another late-night deadline scramble: “New Jersey Nets Win Stanley Cup.”

Yep, that one was mine. And, yep, I’m still blushing.

Despite such shortcomings, I feel confident in saying that we do most of the important things right. At a time when so many news organizations are cutting back and settling for the superficial, the Valley News has kept its commitment to practicing journalism that matters.

When Tropical Storm Irene hit in 2011, reporters, photographers and editors left the comfort of their Sunday dinners to wade through the rising waters and provide compelling stories and useful information for devastated towns.

When police agencies tried to hide questionable behavior behind a veil of secrecy, our staff kept pushing until the facts emerged.

But in some ways, it’s the smaller things that best demonstrate the depth of this newspaper’s commitment. Week after week, people in the newsroom labor to get important events into the Valley Calendar, to report youth hockey scores on the Recreation page, to publish photos that capture the small moments at the heart of daily life, to make room for your opinions in the Forum, and to remember the lives of extraordinary people in our weekly feature, A Life.

All of this happens thanks to a dedicated group of three dozen reporters, photographers and editors, along with the hard-working advertising, production and delivery staffs; thanks to owners who recognize the value of this community newspaper and are willing to invest in it; and thanks — most critically — to readers like you. If you didn’t buy the Valley News each day, if you didn’t patronize its advertisers, if you didn’t give us an earful when we come up short, it wouldn’t be nearly as rewarding to work here.

With our children Amelia and Alex off to college, my wife, Laura Dintino, and I have decided to return to the city where we met more than three decades ago: Burlington, Vt. As co-editor of Seven Days, the statewide weekly based there, I will supervise a smaller staff and have time to return to the reporting and writing that first drew me into this business. And my departure will clear the way for a new generation of leadership to put its mark on the paper or website you are now reading.

Laura and I don’t plan to move from our Meriden home until the spring, and we will spend the next several months relishing life in the place that has become our and our children’s home. Before dawn each morning, one of us will walk to the end of the driveway to start the day in the only way that feels right: with a copy of the Valley News in our hands. Actually, it’s two copies. Neither one of us likes waiting to read the front page.

Jeffrey Good is editor of the Valley News. He can be reached at jgood@vnews.com.