2001 Batten Award Runner-Up

"Unrealized Assets"
The Eagle-Tribune, Lawrence, MA

"Unrealized Assets," an energizing 10-part series that lifted a city's struggle with crime, drugs and political corruption beyond hopelessness and into the world of possibilities. It demonstrated a real sense of affection for the community that bypassed boosterism and focused on doable solutions.

Steve Lambert
Executive Editor
The Eagle-Tribune

Lawrence was a city everybody loved to pick on. And quite frankly, the newspaper was part of the problem. We logged every drug arrest. We highlighted every scar. We bannered every political scandal. What we didn't do was show the kind of leadership cities like Lawrence need in times like this.

It's a very delicate balance. You don't want to cross certain lines. Our intention in "Unrealized Assets" wasn't to be a cheerleader for the city, but it was to take a very serious look at the untapped opportunities that exist there.

One example I'll share with you is the Latino community. Lawrence is the most Hispanic city in Massachusetts; it's 60 percent Hispanic.

That's a rich diversity. But to a lot of the families of those Irish and Italian immigrants who developed the city in the early 20th century, Latinos were viewed as a threat. They're the ones who cause the drugs and high crime. They were an ungrateful culture that didn't want to learn English or were more interested in taking from the community rather than giving anything back.

Through this series, we've broken through some of those myths. And in a much broader sense, we've begun to build bridges in a community that was very resistant to doing that. I'm proud of the newspaper's role in that.

I think the recent census report is a shot across the bow to the entire country. Our world is changing and we need to respond to that and use that, not as a threat, but as an opportunity.

We followed up "Unrealized Assets" with a lot of civic journalism types of things. We held a series of town meetings in Lawrence on the issue of building bridges between Lawrence and [neighboring] Andover, the most affluent community in all of Massachusetts.

We recently started a Spanish-language edition of our paper that comes out once a week. Some of the feedback we got from the established community was that, you know, our ancestors didn't have that advantage. They all had to learn English.

In fact, that wasn't true - during the early part of the century there were a half-dozen foreign language papers that circulated in our area. So it was another myth we tried to break down and prove wrong. I see that as a big part of our role here. In a lot of ways, it's re-energized our newsroom and helped redefine what it is we're here for. We're not simply reporting the news. We're not just writing about scandal and throwing in a sports section and throwing in a feature section. We really have a purpose.

We have a real mission this year to try to build bridges in our community and make our community better.

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