Adam T. Vaccaro

Occasional musings on journalism and media

Posts Tagged ‘journalism

Beaten to the Break, and Okay With It

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My first paid writing gig was a freelance role, providing a daily round-up of the action at the 2010 World Cup for Comcast SportsNet New England’s website. (Unfortunately, I watched the games from my couch and desk at home, not in South Africa. But it was still pretty sweet.)

I worked my way into this role having interned with CSNNE while also blogging about the regional Major League Soccer club, the New England Revolution. Apparently that was enough to render me an in-house soccer expert, and so one thing led to another and I was called into duty.

Today, I have a few journalism gigs. One of them is as the co-editor of Somerville Scout Magazine. The glossy, full-color publication is direct mailed to every address — there’s about 35,000 of them — in the city of Somerville, with long-form features and vibrant art to accompany them. Most issues, I contribute one of those features, generally centered on the interplay between city government and business and real estate development.

So when I received a tip in August that the Revolution and the City of Somerville were talking about the possibility of building a soccer-specific stadium in town (something the two sides had reportedly talked about in the past), I recognized the story as perfectly up my alley for the November/December issue of Scout.

One of the challenges of writing magazine pieces on a bimonthly basis is that it pretty much eliminates much of any chance to break news. At Scout, we like our stories to be long, comprehensive insightful, and we want them to feature multiple sources and multiple perspectives. We’ve chronicled things like the 20-year history of attempts to developing a massive swath of land called Assembly Square, and the drawn out disagreement between City Hall and a disabilities activist. For the most part, these stories are received very well. They’re well-reported, well written, and tend to be compelling. But, by their nature as magazine pieces, they tend not to be the first piece to report on the given subject. It is very rare that Scout is able to break news, and when we do, we do it online in a quick burst. Our print features are more about telling Somerville’s stories in a way that most strongly resonates than being the first to learn about those same stories.

I was hoping this would not be the case when I set out to write “Playing Ball,” as it had not hit the public that these negotiations were happening. On Sept. 29, I talked to Somerville Mayor Joe Curtatone at a coffee shop, and I’m fairly certain at the time I was the first person to get him on the record telling us that the City and the Revs were in talks. I was thrilled; I was only a month from publication and I was the only one with news. If everyone else remained out of the loop, I could both break the news and explain how it would happen, whether it would benefit the City, and why both sides might (or might not) make a good match for one another. Could I be on the verge of a traditional Scout story that also broke news?

Of course not!

Two days later, The Boston Globe reported that the Revolution and the City of Revere were in talks. They weren’t the first to report this, but they were the loudest and most broadly read. Somerville’s own name followed within the same week, as both  New England Soccer Today and The Boston Business Journal reported on the talks between Curtatone and the Kraft family, who own the soccer team, with comment from Curtatone and his administration. The Somerville Journal followed with its own report the next week. I was beaten to breaking the stadium story.

I knew there was a possibility that my spot would get blown up ahead of writing the story. A big part of me wanted to put a short story on the web when Curtatone confirmed the talks. Then, I’d be breaking the news, and I could expound on that original reporting later with a long-form piece. Perhaps I should have done this.

But I remember thinking to myself at the time what a bummer it would be if I were to break the stadium news and somebody else built off my reporting to produce the sort of long-form story that Scout aspires to before I could finish it (especially bearing in mind that I work at another media outlet 40 hours a week, am finishing up my master’s, and tend to have at least one or two dinnertime meetings each week related to other work). To me, it was more important that I wrote a story befitting Scout – a long feature with a variety of perspectives – than to break the news.

I finished my own story on the stadium in mid-October, and as a Scout first, we published it online ahead of publication to capitalize on the interest in the news already generated by other media outlets. That strategy seemed to work, as the story was our most viewed in months.

In the name of telling as complete a story as possible, I included the media role in my own story, and the change in tone from City Hall from when I originally talked to them to when the news broke that Somerville and the Revs were chatting. This, I think, helped readers (both from Somerville and the passionate Revolution supporters community) get an even better look at what was going on around all this talk about a stadium.

After all, that always had to be the goal. Scout is a magazine whose first goal is to provide rich features pertinent to our community. Breaking news is awesome – it establishes some level of prestige and is really terrific for pageviews – but its not our primary mission.

I’m glad I stuck to telling a full story, and I think it turned out pretty solid. I give a tip of the hat to New England Soccer Today, who were the first to get online with the news. Breaking the news and telling comprehensive city stories on a bimonthly basis just aren’t all that compatible – especially in the digital era. But if we consider the entire media a singular text, I think Scout’s role in telling the stadium story was valuable – and I think overall the soccer, Somerville and regional business media told the story pretty damn well.


Written by Adam T. Vaccaro

November 10, 2012 at 4:03 pm