Jim Kenyon: A Matter of Transparency

Published: 10/1/2016 11:07:27 PM
Modified: 10/1/2016 11:07:20 PM

As newspaper stories go, this one was about as straightforward as it gets. After operating out of a neighboring community for more than 30 years, The Telegraph, Nashua’s daily newspaper, was “coming home” to the city’s downtown. The Sept. 9 front-page story included laudatory quotes from Nashua’s mayor, chamber of commerce president and the paper’s publisher.

“I’m happy to welcome The Telegraph back to Main Street where it belongs,” Mayor Jim Donchess said.

The story went on to report that The Telegraph had purchased its new digs for $650,000 and the building had an assessed value of $1.8 million for property tax purposes — information readily available online or in public records. It’s the kind of information that readers expect credible newspapers to include in stories about real estate deals.

So imagine Executive Managing Editor Roger Carroll’s surprise when his boss, Jim Konig, the paper’s publisher, texted him the day the story ran. Konig wanted Carroll to remove the building’s sale price and assessed value from the online version of the story that would serve as a permanent record in the paper’s electronic archives. Carroll was told to delete the sentence that mentioned The Telegraph’sout-of-state owners as well. Carroll, whose journalism career has included stops at the Valley News and the Eagle Times in Claremont, tried to persuade Konig that it was a matter of transparency. As Carroll told the reporter and editors who worked on the story from the outset, they should treat the paper “just like we were writing about a business up the street.”

Journalism Ethics 101, right?

“I was told it was not up for discussion,” said Carroll when we talked on the phone last week. “I was ordered to take out certain facts.”

Carroll, who was named the paper’s chief editor in June 2015, after two years as editorial page editor, informed Konig that someone else would have to carry out the order. “Resigning was not my first choice,” Carroll told me. “But my integrity matters to me.”

I emailed Konig, whose background in publishing is on the advertising side — he was once a regional sales manager at TV Guide — but he said the paper doesn’t “publicly comment on employee issues.”

I’m not sure Konig, who became publisher in 2014, deserves total blame for censoring his own news department, not to mention violating the trust between The Telegraph, which has about the same circulation as the Valley News, and its readers. From his communications with Konig, Carroll got the impression that the edict came from above. Or, more accurately, from about 600 miles to the south. Ogden Newspapers Inc., which bought The Telegraph in 2013, has its headquarters in Wheeling, W.Va. I tried to reach Bill Nutting, Ogden’s vice president, but was told he was traveling. Nutting’s family owns Ogden, which has about 40 daily newspapers across the country. The family also owns the Pittsburgh Pirates.

George Russell, a Nashua radio talk show host, broke the story of Carroll’s departure, and the reason behind it. Now, Carroll, 57, is contemplating a move back to the Upper Valley. “I’ve got to find a job,” he said. “I like living indoors.”

Carroll can joke about being a middle-age guy who suddenly finds himself unemployed. He’s overcome much worse. In the April 26, 2015 edition of The Telegraph, Carroll wrote about growing up in Lebanon, the oldest of seven children, and being rescued by New Hampshire’s child protection system.

“When I was 5, my stepfather split my forehead open with a stick for reasons I no longer remember,” he wrote. “When I was 8 or 9, he used a whiplike fiberglass rod that left deep red welts across my back, arms and legs. He then told me to go to the store to get him a Pepsi, but stopped me when I started eagerly out the door with the money in my pocket. It was a humid summer night, but he made me change into pants and a shirt with long sleeves.”

His mother was a “burly, powerful woman who also used belts, sticks, hairbrushes and her fists. … Mom had a drinking problem that would eventually result in her committal to the state hospital and cause the state to take away her children.”

At 13, Carroll’s life turned for the better. Jim Wechsler, an icon in Lebanon for his work with kids, took him in. It just so happened that Wechsler, a Dartmouth graduate, was a newspaper guy. He worked at the Valley News and had his own weekly paper, The Granite State Gazette, around the time that he became Carroll’s foster parent.

“I thrived under Jim’s guidance,” Carroll wrote. “He coaxed me through high school, conned me into going to college and instilled in me whatever moral compass I now possess.”

Carroll’s piece earned him top honors for commentary writing in the New England Newspaper and Press Association’s 2015 Better Newspaper Competition.

It can be found in the Telegraph’s archives at www.nashuatelegraph.com. It may cost you a few bucks to access, but it’s well worth the expense. And I have to warn you: Keep a tissue handy.

Thankfully, the print and online versions are the same. Nothing has been removed. At The Telegraph, that’s not always the case these days.

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