|THE KEENE STATE COLLEGE MAGAZINE FOR ALUMNI AND FRIENDS||VOLUME XVIII NUMBER 4 Summer 2003|
One of the hardest phone calls a journalist can make is to a grieving family. In October 1999, EgyptAir flight 990 crashed off the coast of Massachusetts. Among the passengers who died were three residents of Norfolk, Conn., all from the same family. At the time, Jonathan Cooper '97 was the editor of the Torrington Register Citizen, the nearby daily.
The decision to follow the local angle was made after a newsroom discussion, explained Cooper. "We asked ourselves what benefit the story would be to our readers," he said. "We didn't just want to use a grieving-family quote."
After dialing the home number a few times but hanging up before the call went through, Cooper stayed on the line. A child answered. "I asked for his mommy and I heard his feet as he walked to another room calling for his mother. When she came on the line, I identified myself and said we were writing a piece about her parents and would she like to share her thoughts with our community." The daughter spoke with Cooper for 20 minutes. Later, after the story was published, Register Citizen reporters were the only media representatives invited to attend the family's memorial service.
In 2001, only four years out of college, Cooper was named executive editor of The Herald of New Britain, a daily newspaper in central Connecticut. His approach to news reporting has remained the same. "In the newsroom," he explained, "we always talk about our front page, and we lead with local news."
The reason, according to Cooper, is that local people want to read about events and issues in their community. "If people aren't reading our paper, we haven't got a job," he said.
Cooper's reporting days began at the Equinox, Keene State's student newspaper. After arriving at Keene State with the intention of studying English, Cooper started writing for the Equinox, discovered he enjoyed it, and decided to major in journalism. With Craig Brandon as adviser and a keen news staff, the paper enjoyed a resurgence, Cooper recalled. He described how the reporters and editors would meet to discuss the next week's issue. "We would ask ‘where are the best stories and how can we tell these stories better?'"
During his time with the Equinox, Cooper served as a sports writer, sports editor, managing editor, and executive editor. He remembers covering stories about hazing allegations, Dr. Y's selection and inauguration, and the perennial favorite, ‘parking on campus.'
He also learned the hard way that the buck stops with the editor. A misinterpretation of notes taken by an Equinox photographer at a rally in Washington, D.C., attended by a number of KSC students, led to the characterization of another college as a "lesbian institution." After the Catholic college's angry president called Cooper, he had to spend the weekend working with Dr. Y and Del Hickey, the KSC vice president for student affairs, smoothing various ruffled feathers.
The lesson? "I should have checked the photographer's notes."
Today, Cooper runs a "tight ship" at The Herald. Between tracking down local stories, attracting advertisers, and keeping tabs on the budget, he is also a mentor for many of his newsroom staff. Young reporters regard the paper as a starting point in their careers. Cooper, who does a bit of everything in the newsroom, including reporting, editing, and page layout, accepts the turnover as a fact of life for a small, successful paper. When hiring new reporters, Cooper promises them that while they won't get rich working for The Herald, they'll get a stack of clips to help them in their careers.
Recently, The Herald won several prizes at the annual awards of the Connecticut chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Cooper was recognized for page-one layout, and the paper's news staff won a prize for a series of investigative pieces about the Fifth Congressional District race. "It's great to see people really proud of their work," he said. "Whatever part you played – editing or whatever – their success is partly yours."