Thursday, April 05, 2007

A Rainy Night at the Only Huge Castle on the Water in Groton

Driving from Westchester County to Groton, Connecticut, yesterday afternoon on I-95 was like driving through the rinse portion of a 90-mile car wash at 50-miles-an-hour. Water was falling and spraying from all directions. At Avery Point, where I was to be part of a symposium sponsored by UConn and the New London Day, the wind made the rain fall almost horizontally. The Avery Point people had arranged a small dinner before the symposium, in Branford House, which was described to me as “the only huge castle on the water” at the Avery Point campus. Apparently it was built by an industrialist named Planter a hundred years or so ago (there was a plaque next to the front door that perhaps explained why a building erected by a fellow named Planter was called Branford House but it was too cold and rainy for me to stop to read it). Branford House was indeed on the water and during dinner we had a terrific view of the clouds that shrouded the eastern end of Long Island Sound.

The symposium was called “Science, Politics and Journalism: Unraveling the Broadwater Controversy,” and it was held in Branford House’s main hall, a long room with tall ceilings, ornate, dark, carved woodwork and an enormous marble fireplace that proved that rich people a century ago didn’t necessarily have more taste than rich people today.

The symposium drew an audience of about 100 people. They listened politely as the four speakers expounded for 15 minutes each, and then asked polite questions. I spoke third, after Judy Benson (who has been covering Broadwater admirably for the Day) and Frank Bohlen, a scientist-professor at UConn, and before Peter Auster, another UConn scientist. For what it’s worth, I made the following points:

1. Science is one of the key issues in trying to figure out what to do about Broadwater but it’s not the only one and it may not be the most important one.

2. We needn’t spend much time lamenting how newspapers need to do a better job because newspapers aren’t going to do a better job. Doing a better job requires more resources, but newspapers all over are contracting and consolidating, so they’re not going to suddenly devote more resources to covering science and environment issues in the Long Island Sound region.

3. That being the case, newspapers taken as a whole have done a pretty good job covering the Broadwater issue – with the key phrase being “taken as a whole.” The New London Day has done a good job, while the others have done a mediocre job – publishing the occasionally first-rate story in between a lot of perfunctory stories. But that’s a problem only if you’re relying on one of the mediocre papers for your information about Broadwater. Nowadays though there’s no need for that. You can easily read all the papers online, and if you do, you realize that, taken as a whole, the coverage has been pretty good.

I hung around when the symposium ended, hoping for the rain to stop for the drive home. After every talk I give there are people who want to ask me questions or give me information that it’s essential that I know. Last night a college student asked for my advice on how to get her articles published. A fellow who apparently wasn’t paying attention during the introduction asked me if I was from Groton because he remembered that his son had once gotten in trouble because a girl named Andersen had bought beer for him when he was under age (I assured him that I wasn’t from Groton and it wasn't my daughter). And a man asked me if during the research for my book I had come across a 1954 law on erosion and sediment control, because if I hadn’t he was sure that I’d find it fascinating. I told him that he no doubt was right.

I was back in the car at 10, the rain still falling, the military-industrial waterfront of Groton bright and gleaming. The Mets-Cardinals game was in the fifth inning and wasn’t over until I reached New Haven, which made the dark wet drive home a lot easier than the drive there. Here’s how the New London Day covered the symposium.



Anonymous rob miraldi said...

nicely written account of the evening. glad to hear the press was decent.

i love tom andersen's blog but i bet he did buy that beer dressed up as a woman...

1:36 PM  

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