Life after Gannett: Nemasket Week debuts in Middleborough and Lakeville

Independent local news startups are breaking out everywhere, so forgive me if I pay a little extra attention to today’s debut of Nemasket Week, a free, advertiser-supported print newspaper and website. The paper covers my hometown of Middleborough as well as neighboring Lakeville, and is the first news outlet those communities have had since Gannett killed off the Middleboro Gazette last year.

The first issue of Nemasket Week comprises 12 pages and has several local ads. It also has news — the naming of a new fire chief on page one, a feature on a performance by the High Flying Dogs, the select board’s evaluation of the town administrator, the adoption of body cams by the police departments in both communities, and (gasp) the closure of the Peaceful Meadows ice cream stand. A number of community announcements and an obituary round things out.

And get this — they actually sent a reporter to Williamsport, Pennsylvania, to cover Middleborough’s appearance in the Little League World Series. The opening loss came too late to make it into the print edition, but there’s a detailed story online.

Sadly, the paper has embraced the “Middleboro” spelling instead of the correct and proper “Middleborough.” But that’s an ancient debate, and the Middleboro Gazette used the shorter name even back when it was an independently owned paper.

This is an impressive debut. Congratulations to publisher Anne Eisenmenger for adding to what was already an impressive regional presence comprising Wareham, Dartmouth and the Sippican communities of Rochester, Mattapoisett and Marion.

A free weekly paper will cover Middleborough and Lakeville

Oliver Mill Park, Middleborough. Photo (cc) 2022 by Dan Kennedy.

Local news outlets are popping up left and right following the decimation of our Eastern Massachusetts weekly newspapers at the hands of Gannett. But I want to give a special shoutout to Anne Eisenmenger, who’s going to launch a new weekly paper in mid-August to cover Middleborough, the town where I grew up, and neighboring Lakeville.

Nemasket Week, which will debut on Aug. 18, will be a free, advertiser-supported newspaper with a website. It’s part of Beaver Dam Partners, which currently publishes Wareham Week, Dartmouth Week and Sippican Week, serving Marion, Mattapoisett and Rochester. Eisenmenger, a Boston Globe and GateHouse Media alum who began Beaver Dam 12 years ago, has a proven track record, and I’m looking forward to seeing what she can offer in Middleborough.

Gannett shuttered The Middleboro Gazette last November as part of a wave of weekly closures — about a half-dozen in 2021, followed by 19 in 2022, along with nine others that were merged into four titles. Even worse, nearly all of Gannett’s weekly reporters were reassigned to regional beats, which means that the chain’s papers and websites have little or no local news.

So best of luck to Nemasket Week. And though it’s well outside Eisenmenger’s region, may I suggest that she take a close look at Medford while she’s at it?

The full announcement follows. And by the way, Anne, it’s Middleborough, not Middleboro. Both spellings are in use, but the town is literally the middle borough between Plymouth and Bridgewater.

Oliver Mill

Oliver Mill in Middleborough on Sunday. A correction to the bottom sign: Muttock was not “largely ignored” until the 1960s and ’70s. Crowds always went there during herring season, where you could see waves of fish migrating upstream. The restoration got mixed reviews at the time, as it involved the removal of a lot of trees.

It was legal to catch herring back then. One time I brought a few home and cleaned them. My grandmother baked them. The taste was pretty horrible, and they were filled with bones, so I didn’t try that again. And no one called it Oliver Mill. It was Muttock.

How a minority of voters killed a plan to extend the Minuteman Bikeway

A proposal to extend the Minuteman Bikeway from Bedford Depot to the Concord line was defeated earlier this week even though an overwhelming majority of residents voted in favor of it. And that’s a good excuse to rant a bit about how difficult it is to build anything these days.

Bedford, which has an open town meeting, voted by a margin of 350 to 258 to spend $1.5 million on the project — then voted 363 to 235 in favor of taking by eminent domain the easements needed to expand and pave the dirt trail that’s currently there. As Mike Rosenberg reports in The Bedford Citizen, that’s 60% — a substantial margin, but short of the necessary two-thirds.

Now, New England town meetings have been voting down needed spending plans for generations. When I was a kid growing up in Middleborough, town meeting delayed building a new high school for years, resulting double sessions. But the just-say-no mentality appears to have gotten worse.

New York Times columnist and podcast host Ezra Klein has explored on several occasions why we have given a veto to a minority of loud NIMBY types. We are dealing with a pretty horrendous housing shortage in this country and especially in this state, yet it’s proven nearly impossible to build more-dense developments near transportation hubs. Those who want to preserve their two-acre lots in the suburbs turn out to have a louder voice — and more power — than the rest of us.

As I understand it, the eminent domain takings in Bedford weren’t going to result in any houses being removed. I’ve ridden along the dirt path that’s there now — it’s called the Reformatory Branch Trail because it used to run all the way to the Concord prison — and it’s in the middle of the woods.

And I’m not saying that opponents didn’t have at least an argument to make. A lot of trees would be removed, and the dirt trail, currently underpopulated, would probably become as crowded as the rest of the Minuteman. Which is to say, very. Moreover, the improved Minuteman would end at the Concord line, as there are no plans to extend the Reformatory Branch through Concord to the center of that town. The presence of the Great Meadows National Wildlife Refuge would probably make it impossible in any case.

Yet I’m told that the Reformatory Branch becomes a mud bowl whenever it rains — something I haven’t experienced, since I’ve only ridden it on sunny days. Some residents have also pointed out that a paved path would be more accessible to people with disabilities. In the end, none of that mattered to the minority of voters who wanted to stop the project. And that’s where we are.

Rosenberg describes the proposal as being “on life support.” Ready for interment is more like it.

Gannett closes Middleboro Gazette but vows a commitment to digital

Middleborough bank building, circa 1910

This one hurts. Gannett today announced that it is shutting down The Middleboro Gazette, and it did so with an insulting message that included every cliché you can imagine short of “in order to serve you better.” The company’s message suggests that it will not cut back on coverage, which will be available online at The Standard-Times website. I hope they’re right. We’ll see.

I grew up in Middleborough. (People spell it both ways, but “-borough” is correct, damn it.) I remember touring the weekly’s offices, which included its own hot-lead press, when I was in elementary school. Later, I wrote a column of high school news for the Gazette.

Here’s part of Gannett’s announcement:

This business decision reaffirms The Middleboro Gazette and Middleboro Gazette Extra’s commitment to the sustainable future of local news. The Middleboro Gazette, the Middleboro Gazette Extra and their parent company, Gannett, understand many readers value and depend upon the news and information they find weekly in their print products. The company’s focus on digital news presentation helps ensure continued delivery of valuable community journalism and effective platforms for advertisers.

Over the summer Gannett closed about a half-dozen weeklies in the Greater Boston area. I had hoped they were done. Not to repeat myself, but if the chain is truly committed to transitioning to digital while providing the same amount of local news coverage, then I think that’s fine. The company has done nothing to earn anyone’s trust, though. That will have to be earned.

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Fifty years later, a return trip to Middleborough for the town’s best pizza

When I was a kid growing up in Middleborough, we didn’t eat pizza for supper — it was a treat, not a meal. Every so often my parents would get hungry while we were watching TV. That’s when my father would order a pizza from the Central Cafe and pick it up. We’d each have a slice or two.

According to just about everyone, the Central had the best pizza in Middleborough. We would always order the linguica — a sweet Portuguese sausage, befitting the heavy Portuguese population in Southeast Massachusetts. It would be sliced into disks that curled up in the oven. Believe it or not, I don’t think I even tried pepperoni until I was a teenager. And I guess you’d say it was a bar pizza, which my friend Marc Hurwitz has explained is a pizza whose ingredients go right out to the edge, so there’s no waste. As I understand it, bar pizza is a South Shore thing; Middleborough is south of the South Shore.

By some miracle, the Central is still there. So last Saturday five of us met for their first Central experience, and my first Central pizza in probably 50 years. The menu was far more extensive than it was back in the ’60s, when I’m pretty sure that pizza was the only thing offered. These days, it goes on and on.

I ordered a Caesar salad; it was not a Caesar salad. There was no cheese — but there was a copious amount of bacon on top. Did I say bacon? It was a pretty damn good salad, even if they ought to come up with another name for it. I also got a Harper Lane IPA, which was excellent.

But we’d come for the pizza. My wife and I split a pizza with sliced linguica while my son and his girlfriend split one with ground linguica. (My daughter for some reason ordered spaghetti and meatballs.) It was not exactly as I remembered it, but that’s not to say it wasn’t great. It was. The crust was thicker than I recall, as were the linguica slices, so they stayed flat rather than curling up. I don’t know what kind of cheese they used, but it had a fuller taste than you get with most pizza — a bit like Modern Apizza in New Haven, which might actually have the best pizza in the world.

Anyway, mission accomplished. We hit the local Dairy Queen before heading back to Medford. And I was thrilled to learn that the Central still has fantastic pizza.

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Drive a stake through the corrupt heart of casino gambling

8161314100_89f6987d5a_oLongtime readers know that I don’t disclose who I’m voting for. Yes, I’m a liberal, and if you tried to guess I’m sure you’d be right most of the time. But I firmly believe that journalists — even opinion journalists — should keep their choices to themselves. It’s not a matter of objectivity; it’s a matter of independence.

But I feel no such compunction about ballot questions. After all, I analyze and express my opinion about issues. It seems silly to refuse to say how I’m going to vote on Question 3 after writing repeatedly that I’m staunchly opposed to casino gambling.

Tomorrow is Election Day. Here’s how I’m going to be voting on the four statewide ballot questions.

And yes, I will start with Question 3, which I think is by far the most important matter on the ballot. I have been fighting against casino gambling since 2007, when the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe tried to build a casino in Middleborough, the town where I grew up. The bid eventually fell apart amid a miasma of anger and corruption (what a surprise, eh?).

But Gov. Deval Patrick and the state legislature, to their everlasting discredit, kept the issue alive with a 2011 law allowing for the opening of three casinos and one slots parlor. It is an outrage. A “yes” vote on Question 3, which you can be sure I’ll be casting tomorrow, would once again outlaw casino gambling in Massachusetts.

Casino gambling has been tied to an ocean full of social and economic ills — increased rates of crime, divorce, even suicide, and hollowed-own business districts as the spending shifts to the local casino. The stench of corruption is inevitable. Look at Everett, the locus of federal indictments even before one shovelful of dirt has been turned over.

I am disappointed that both major-party gubernatorial candidates, Republican Charlie Baker and Democrat Martha Coakley, say they would be open to finding a way to build a casino in Springfield even if Question 3 is approved. One aspect they may not understand is this: If casino gambling is legal, then tribal casinos become inevitable. You can’t let Springfield have a casino without opening the door to one, two or more tribal casinos as well. (And never mind the condescending attitude Baker and Coakley have about Springfield’s economic prospects.)

My fear is that Question 3 will lose decisively, thus creating the impression that Massachusetts residents are pro-casino. Polls consistently show that people are in favor of casinos in the abstract and against them when someone proposes to build one in their neighborhood. If Question 3 does go down, we can still fight them one at a time. But a “yes” vote would put the matter to rest once and for all.

Question 1. I’m voting “no.” A “yes” vote would repeal a law that indexes the gasoline tax to the rate of inflation. Our gas taxes are still on the low side, as anyone who drives through Connecticut can attest. Our transportation system needs a huge amount of investment whether you’re talking about rail, subways or highways and bridges.

Question 2. A “yes” vote would expand the bottle-deposit law, and I’m all for it.

Question 4. This is a perfect example of why some issues should not be decided by referendum. Passage of Question 4 would make medical leave mandatory at most private companies in Massachusetts. It’s an enormously complex issue. I’m voting “yes” because I’m concerned about the message that it would send if it goes down to defeat.

No slots in Danvers. (No slots anywhere.)

pottersville

I was hoping this would go away so quickly that I wouldn’t have to write about it. But today Ethan Forman of The Salem News reports that local business leaders think a 24-hour, seven-day slots parlor in Danvers would just be a wicked awesome way of boosting the North Shore economy.

No surprise that our local Mr. Potters are excited about the idea of turning my town into Pottersville. But it looks as though those of us who oppose casinos and slots are going to have to mobilize — or at least get ready to mobilize.

To that end, I’ve started a Facebook page, No Slots in Danvers, and I’m going to keep a close eye on developments. The last thing we need is 1,250 slot machines behind the Liberty Tree Mall, abutting a residential neighborhood.

As those of you who’ve been reading Media Nation for a few years know, I was a staunch opponent of plans to build a casino — at one time billed as the world’s largest — in my hometown of Middleborough. That plan collapsed, fortunately, and I hope this one will, too. At the very least, I find it hard to believe that the proposal would win a townwide referendum, no matter how many goodies the developers promise.

Just say no to slots and casinos.

Neighbors reject Taunton casino plan by 2-1 margin

As you may have heard, Taunton voters overwhelmingly approved a tribal casino in a nonbinding referendum on Saturday. But that’s not even close to the whole story.

Residents who live closest to the proposed casino voted even more overwhelmingly against it. According to Cape Cod Times reporter George Brennan, the city voted  7,693 in favor and 4,571 opposed — but “in the two East Taunton precincts where the Mashpee Wampanoag casino is planned, voters rejected it by nearly a 2-1 margin.”

In the Taunton Gazette, reporter Christopher Nichols posts the numbers:

Ward 4 — which contains most of East Taunton — voted against the casino proposal with 755 in favor and 1,332 opposed. Voters closest to the proposed casino site in Ward 4 Precinct B voted against the proposal, 678-350.

Yet, with regard to Boston’s two daily newspapers, we’re already seeing a repeat of 2007. That’s when the big news was that Middleborough had voted in favor of a deal the selectmen had cut with the Mashpee Wampanoag tribe to build a casino in that town (big news!), and then turned around and took a decisive but nonbinding vote against the casino itself (shhhh … pay no attention).

The proposed Middleborough casino eventually fell apart, but town officials are still hoping there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Alice Elwell of the Brockton Enterprise has the latest.

So what happened with the Taunton vote? On Sunday, the Globe’s Mark Arsenault reported on Taunton’s vote in favor of the casino — but made no mention of the results in East Taunton. The Herald did better, publishing Brennan’s Cape Cod Times story (Herald publisher Pat Purcell runs several of Rupert Murdoch’s regional papers, including the Times). But today, the Herald offers a follow-up by Chris Cassidy and Laurel Sweet that omits the vote of the opposition in East Taunton.

Arsenault, in his Globe story, closes by noting that Taunton is a long way from actually hosting a tribal casino. Because of a 2009 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Carcieri v. Salazar, the Mashpee won’t be able to build a tribal casino in Taunton without an act of Congress. Good luck with that.

The Taunton vote demonstrates, once again, that no one wants to live next to a casino. Nor should they have to.

A final casino note: Former Boston mayor Ray Flynn turned out on Saturday to lend his support to East Boston residents opposed to a casino that’s been proposed for Suffolk Downs.

Given that the East Boston plan is already being portrayed as a done deal, it will be pretty interesting to see how a battle between Boston’s former and current mayors (Tom Menino supports the proposal) will play out.

Photo (cc) by s_falkow and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Albert H. Shaw, 1913-2010

Al Shaw in 1977

My uncle Albert Shaw lived long enough to be able to look me in the eye and tell me in all seriousness, “I wish I was 92 again.” He was 96 when he said that. He died on Dec. 23, just a few weeks after his 97th birthday, and a small group of family members and friends said goodbye at the Massachusetts Military Reservation in Buzzards Bay last Thursday.

I had several uncles, but Al — one of five siblings on my mother’s side — was the only one who lived nearby when I was growing up. He was someone I saw a lot of when I was a kid. He took me golfing. He also was a frequent presence at the family cottage in Onset, where, in 1977, I took the picture of him that you see here. Along with my grandmothers, he was the one member of my extended family who was actually a part of my life.

Al grew up in Middleborough, in the same house in which I was raised two generations later. He was born on Dec. 7, 1913, and was in the Army when, on his 28th birthday, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. He served as a communications officer in Burma, walking miles down the road to the hospital after he contracted malaria. Following treatment, he returned to his post.

Like many people from his generation, intelligence and ability did not necessarily lead to a good job. In mid-life he trained as a draftsman, and worked for a while at a high-tech company in the Merrimack Valley. But one of the periodic tech washouts claimed his job, and he ended up spending the latter part of his working life as a custodian at the Brockton VA Hospital. Yet he was smart enough to have done just about anything he put his mind to, and his reading was deep and eclectic. As recently as this fall, he was telling me in great detail about an article he’d read in the Wilson Quarterly about the Chinese economy.

Following a divorce, Al spent many years living with a couple with whom he was friendly — a friendship that was tested after the husband became totally disabled in a workplace accident. Al stayed on for many years, providing them with invaluable assistance.

In recent years, Al lived on his own in an apartment in Lakeville. He was in remarkably good health until very late in his life, golfing well into his 80s and taking part in a bowling league as recently as this past spring. (And kicking butt.) He only gave up driving around Labor Day. My wife, kids and I spent Thanksgiving with him at his home. He was feeling well and was in good spirits that day.

Yet his congestive heart failure was becoming increasingly difficult to manage. When he landed in the hospital in early December, he decided it was finally time to move to a nursing home. Unfortunately, he had barely begun to settle in when he fell and broke his hip. He died in surgery, his heart unable to withstand the effects of anesthesia.

Al lived a long, healthy life, and he had been making it clear for some time that he was ready to go. He wasn’t a Woody Allen fan (nor am I), but to paraphrase Allen, Al wasn’t afraid of dying; he just didn’t want to be there when it happened. He got his wish. I will miss him, but I’m glad my kids got to know him.