A Question of Censorship at Elder Vision?
Turmoil, Trouble and Resignation
By EDWARD SHANAHAN
Editorial struggles between editors and publishers are as old as the written word itself, yet the conflict can still be painful, especially when principles and strong personalities are involved.
On Jan. 27, citing differences in philosophy between her and the Council and its director, Patricia Shaughnessy, Diane Welter submitted her resignation as editor of Elder Vision, the 6,000 circulation tabloid put out every other month by the Northampton Council on Aging.
In a series of letters written to Shaughnessy leading up to her resignation, Welter wrote: “I think it is Elder Vision’s responsibility ... to provide a place where seniors can express their concerns and where the pros and cons of various approaches can be explored.”
She went to say: “I do not see Elder Vision as a newsletter solely promoting the policies of the Council on Aging leadership, but rather as a forum where everybody can speak and be heard.”
In an interview, Welter specifically said she questioned the appropriateness of the entire front page and additional space inside the December/January issue of the newspaper being used to promote the choice of a controversial site at Look Park for the proposed new senior center.
Welter also complained that at least one letter to the editor criticizing the Look Park site was withheld from the issue, which she viewed as a form of censorship of the opinions of the newspaper’s readers.
Contacted recently for comment, Shaughnessy said: “I can’t comment on personnel issues.” She said she would stand on her words of praise for Welter that were published in the March/April issue. Of Welter’s resignation, she wrote: “Sad news. Bad news. Disappointing news. Unhappy news. Dispirited News.” In a brief telephone interview she said both Bob Cilman, the newspaper’s first editor beginning in 1987, and Welter, who succeeded him in 2002, had done a “great job.”
A number of candidates were interviewed for the position recently, and the job of editor was given to Rachel Simpson, a former reporter and editor for the Daily Hampshire Gazette and more recently a free-lancer.
Welter, 59, said that her stewardship of the newspaper had not been questioned previously by city officials or the Council on Aging. “The reverse was true. I got a lot of positive feedback,” she said of the some 20 issues she edited.
She said she believed she had been successful in bringing in more writers to Elder Vision, “so they felt that it was more than ever their paper.” And I was one of those writers she recruited.
The newspaper was also generating more letters to the editor, and other contributions from readers, she said. “It was really fun discovering people’s talents and skills and trying to showcase them.”
While the controversy over the proposed Look Park location for a new center appears to the been the wedge that eventually divided Welter and Shaughnessy, Elder Vision had been providing on-going coverage of the issue as it continued unfolding for many months, Welter said.
But when it became clear that the Council’s director intended to devote pretty much the entire front page to the senior center issue, Welter had the feeling that editorial decisions were being taken out the her hands.
While Shaughnessy promised the coverage would be objective, she more or less handled the entire story herself, Welter explained. “She wrote all of the stories, past, present and potential future.”
At that point, Welter said “I thought it was biased.” Additionally, a letter questioning the Look Park site and submitted for publication by Kathleen Suchocki of Murphy Terrace, was held out of that issue, apparently, according to Welter because Shaughnessy said:” I don’t want seniors split on the issue.”
Welter said she became more disturbed about the changes in editorial policy, but “I could not seem to communicate my dismay. We just reached an impasse.” She insisted in several letters to Shaughnessy that Elder Vision be a forum for all seniors “to be heard and to express their views,” not merely being turned into a “newsletter” for the Council on Aging.
Adding fuel to the fire, Welter said was Shaughnessy’s decision to create a committee consisting solely of the director and two members of the Council on Aging to come up with “editorial guidelines.”
At first, Welter thought such a committee, if broadly based, was a good idea, especially if it included members of the community with some expertise in journalism and marketing. But when she was excluded from the oversight committee, she concluded it was time for her to resign.
Since submitting her resignation which took effect Feb. 18, Welter, who previously worked for the council for 10 years as program coordinator, said she continues to “feel badly that it did not work out. It’s hard to come to terms [with the idea] that it wasn’t going to work.”
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