Bowdoin-Geneva and the Globe – thwarted hopes for both

Everyone left dissatisfied.

The scene was a meeting on Feb. 13 of Boston Globe reporters and editors with about 75 individuals, most of them residents of the Bowdoin-Geneva section of Dorchester; the purpose of the gathering at Cesaria’s Restaurant on Bowdoin Street was to discuss the Globe’s multi-part, multi-page 2012 report on the neighborhood that was entitled “68 Blocks.”

Leaders of neighborhood organizations like Paulo DeBarros of the Catholic Charities Teens Center at St. Peter’s, Davida Andleman of the Greater Bowdoin/Geneva Neighborhood Association, Jeanne DuBois of the Dorchester Bay EDC, and Sandy Bagley of the Ward 15 Democratic Committee expressed in different ways their concerns that many of the “good stories” about the neighborhood were not included in the week-long series.

The Globe reporters and editors at the meeting clearly felt unappreciated. Metro Editor Jen Peter’s reaction to the criticism was to say, “We poured our hearts into it, we took it Seriously.” The reporters were Akilah Johnson, Meghan Irons, Andrew Ryan, Maria Cramer, Jenna Russell, who were joined by other Globe editors, a photographer, and a web page coordinator.

The discussion had moments of poignancy with the residents feeling at times that the reporters weren’t listening and the reporters feeling that they had worked so hard to listen.

The Globe puts a lot of reporting and editing time into its Spotlight Team’s efforts at uncovering public and private corruption, but I’ve never seen so many reporters assigned for so much time to a story about one neighborhood.

Six reporters, supported by editors, a photographer, a designer, and others were assigned to the story and two of the reporters moved into the neighborhood for six months.

This was an unprecedented commitment of time, money, and newsprint looking into life in an urban neighborhood. Hard stories were told, especially one about the murder of a young teen. There were good stories, too, like the one about the Coleman Street community garden.

There was a lot of power in that room that night in addition to the Globe, an important city institution. Mayor Menino was there; he listened but did not speak. And the Bowdoin-Geneva residents were there with their powerful hopes for their neighborhood.

I think that the gap between the paper and the residents was a combination of wariness on both sides about the not-undaunting scope of the problems the neighborhood faces and a disappointment among the residents that such a powerful institution as the Globe could not solve them even as they wished the paper could have helped them more.

There are high expectations for the Boston Globe to be “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable,” a standard that some journalists aspire to and that many readers hope for. A powerful newspaper like the Globe does its share of this, but it cannot force changes by itself, however much they are needed.

Only when a community is well organized and persistent will it have enough power to gain respect and be able to hold officials accountable. It isn’t easy for neighborhoods with poor and working class residents to organize themselves this way, yet every neighborhood of the city, including Bowdoin-Geneva, does it every day. Families help family members; neighbors help neighbors as do social service agencies, neighborhood businesses, community groups, and religious congregations.

In these ways, neighborhoods create “that bridge over a fence” of barriers, as a man named Cesar described it at the meeting. Each neighborhood knits a fabric of relationships that can lead to support and opportunities, but it is never so strong that some aren’t left without any support some of the time.

People will not leave any meeting dissatisfied when they have intentionally done their part to contribute to that fabric that binds them in their neighborhoods.

Lew Finfer is a Dorchester resident.