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Business Editor's Notebook: Finding solutions to the state's biggest challenges

New Hampshire Union Leader - 5/8/2022

May 8—LAST THURSDAY, a despondent man was threatening to jump off the Piscataqua River Bridge. A police detective was credited with saving his life.

Using her training, Portsmouth Police Detective Rochelle Jones listened to the frustrations and heartaches that drove the young man to that moment, and eventually she persuaded him to climb a ladder to safety.

It's a story that might have faded fast if not for Union Leader reporter Shawne Wickham. Events like these are often reduced to a few paragraphs. A routine report might have focused on how the bridge was shut down to traffic for two hours, and not so much about the human story that unfolded.

Shawne has always expressed great empathy in her work, but she was compelled to pursue this story because she spent a year reporting exclusively on mental health issues. She could see the path to a powerful, life-affirming tale.

In "Beyond the Stigma," Shawne focused on New Hampshire's addiction and mental health challenges. She was able to work on the 2018-2019 project exclusively thanks to funding from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, NAMI New Hampshire and private individuals.

"Beyond the Stigma" was the second of three such projects sponsored by the New Hampshire Solutions Journalism Lab at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications. The first, beginning in 2016, was the two-year "Silver Linings," which focused on issues of aging. The latest is "What's Working," a project examining problems and solutions to New Hampshire's workforce challenges.

"Silver Linings" and "What's Working" also were supported by the community. "Silver Linings" was funded entirely by the Endowment for Health. "What's Working" has been supported by Eversource, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, Northeast Delta Dental, Fidelity Investments, the New Hampshire Coalition for Business and Education, and the New Hampshire College & University Council.

Thanks to their support, reporters on these projects are freed from daily deadlines to focus on in-depth reporting designed to seek solutions to the state's most pressing problems. This is work we would otherwise would not be able to pursue, certainly not at this magnitude, due to the financial realities of the media business.

Stories reporters have pursued through these projects have had wide-ranging impact. They include Michael Cousineau's "What's Working" report on how Massachusetts revised its income tax rules during the pandemic in 2020 to eliminate an exemption for time spent working out of state.

Thousands of New Hampshire residents working remotely from home were being taxed as if they were commuting to the Bay State. The story touched off a battle between New Hampshire and Massachusetts that went all the way to the Supreme Court.

The Union Leader and the Loeb School are also seeking funds to support a two-year education project that will focus on the Manchester school system. Mayor Joyce Craig summed up the district's challenges in a Union Leader report last month about the annual ranking of high schools published by U.S. News and World Report.

Referring to the district's less than stellar rankings, Craig said the city faces many problems that other schools in the state don't, and that they were exacerbated by COVID-19.

"Manchester is the largest district in the state, with aging school buildings, the largest number of students living at or below the poverty level, and a growing number of students with special education needs or limited English language proficiency," she wrote in an email.

The story of how the district plans to address those challenges and where it might look for answers will be the focus of our reporting project.

Mike Cote is senior editor for news and business. Contact him at or (603) 206-7724.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not represent the views and opinions of the sponsor, its members and affiliates.


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