Little darling, it feels like years since it’s been here Here comes the sun Here comes the sun, and I say It’s all right —GEORGE HARRISON
F irst, where to park on a pleasant early evening in mid-October? I found a metered spot on Main St., near the offices of the Small Business Service Bureau—workplace of Frank Carroll who in his winningly conscientious way is thumping the drums for a concert by ScottishCanadian tenor John McDermott at St. John’s on November 20th to benefit the church’s Food for the Poor program. I slipped a few quarters into the slot to keep any would-be ticket writers dispatched by Mr. Augustus and Mr. Petty at bay (subsequently contemplating the thought of mounted police galloping after me in pursuit of 75 cents, if the manager has his way). I walked north toward City Hall, passed several people trying to enter the Denholm Building (why, I’m not sure, because it was after hours and the doors were locked). I crossed at the light, glanced at a pack of loiterers gathered in front of the 7/11, proceeded toward the old home of the T&G, wondering what it would be like to enter premises I hadn’t set eyes on since retiring in 2009. “You going in?” John DiPietro asked, as I approached. Mr. DiPietro was looking flashy, healthy and his typical upbeat self again, post-surgery. He was chatting with Biotechnology Impresario Kevin O’Sullivan on the sidewalk (conversation comes easily to Mr. DiPietro; a few days later he would post a Facebook message mentioning his good fortune in happening upon Bob Cousy in Mr. Cousy’s yard and striking up a discussion with “Mr. Basketball”). “Of course,” I said. Here, as it turned out, was a chance to reconnect with former T&G colleagues who were among those gathered in what was once the first-floor advertisingsales area of the newspaper (Sheila Nealon, Denise Anderson, et al). All of those in attendance were present in a show of congratulation for Mark Henderson and his cronies on the first anniversary of the online publication The Worcester Sun (also, for me, an opportunity to avoid the clutches of The Pulse’s Paul Giorgio who always seems to be concerned about what I’m up to). The burning question as regards Mr. Henderson’s upstart news operation in a city long dominated by the T&G (even a decidedly weaker version of it, these days) was …is…can The Sun make it? There is evidence for The Sun’s survival, and against. Assets-wise, there is Mr. Henderson himself for starters. He brings to the effort an agreeable disposition, a keen intellect, an eagerness to spread the word about his venture and a commitment to strong local journalism. The recent addition of Raymond V. Mariano as a columnist, to go with such key contributors as Chris Sinacola “Sina-cism”) and Cartoonist Dave Hitch, bodes well. Mr. Mariano is not afraid to rock the boat, as he did with a piece in which he chastised the City Council for “abdicating” its role to the manager; effectively continuing a trend that was begun, Mr. Mariano said, by Mr. Augustus’ predecessor Michael O’Brien. The current Council, Mr. Mariano added, is “unorganized, scattered and rendered ineffective by the current manager.” A Mariano (the opinionated Bill Randell of Advantage Benefits is also aboard) gives The Sun some wallop. But with any endeavor of this sort in the unfavorable climate for newspapering that exists at the moment, there are questions; and doubts. Kevin O’Sullivan, Gary Vecchio and Steve Quist are among those who when asked expressed reservations about The Sun’s ability to establish a toehold. Many people aren’t yet aware of the publication. Mr. Vecchio, longtime head of the Shrewsbury St. Area Neighborhood Association, told me “unless you are a news junkie like me, you don’t know it exists.” This is reinforced up and down the line. Fr. John Madden of St. John’s Church said “I have heard of it, but am not online enough to have any experience with it.” Mauro DePasquale of WCCA-13 said Mr. Henderson and his colleagues “seem like a great team. I currently do not subscribe. I hope to soon. I do read from their free-to-read section when I can.” It would seem that The Sun must have community stalwarts like Fr. Madden and Mr. DePasquale as loyal followers if it hopes to make an impact. Mr. Quist—”Q” to one and all—raised another eyebrow. “I am familiar with The Worcester Sun,” Q said. “I have tried previously to sign up as a subscriber and kept getting kicked back. I essentially follow the blip headlines but that’s about it. I was unable to subscribe so I gave up trying. I do think there is Sen. Mike Moore presents The Sun’s Mark Henderson with a congratulatory certificate from the Commonwealth, definitely a market for more news operations and I really like Mr. Henderson and what he is doing. I am not at all enamored with Hitch or some of the other contributors they have but what the hell I’m sure they are not enamored with me either. LOL.” Mr. O’Sullivan sounds a similar refrain. “I like Mark, he’s a good guy,” Mr. O’Sullivan said. “I don’t know how he makes any money on ads from Quintin’s (?) bar and people’s subscriptions. I don’t have a subscription. They send it to me every day and I take a look. It’s a little like Go Local Worcester. Long-term I don’t think much of Go Local Worcester out of Providence.” Mr. Henderson has told me that one of the next steps for The Sun will be a Sunday print product that will be available at the newsstand and also, apparently, via delivery on a circulation basis. There is speculation that The Sun might print two days a week, even. This would put The Sun on a more equal footing with the Telegram. Mr. Vecchio was frank in his appraisal after getting a free subscription for a month. “My favorite part was Hitch [formerly of the Telegram, like Mr. Henderson), reading his cartoons again,” Mr. Vecchio said. “To be honest, I didn’t see enough there to pay for it on a weekly basis. I have been mentioned in three or four of their articles but I couldn’t read the articles I was in or be able to send them to others to read. I have sent them announcements of my monthly meetings but I have never heard back that they are getting these.” John DiPietro said “sure hope The Sun makes it, have no idea of their numbers.” That makes two of us. Mr. Henderson is showing up in the right places. Worcester Bravehearts games, business-association luncheon meetings and elsewhere. My personal feeling is that The Sun has to become radically different than the Telegram and other news products in order to have relevance and standing. Is it there yet? No. Can it get there? Maybe.
Read all of Rod Lee’s posts, past and present, on his new blog insideworcesterweb.com