The good, bad, ugly of summer stories

Summer is just around the corner. The advent of a new season brings the anticipation of cyclical events: tomatoes in the garden, throngs at the beach, blockbusters in the theaters. Summer also brings a whole slew of news coverage that will be familiar to readers. Let’s take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly of perennial summer stories.

The good: The tourism economy. The Times always has been good at identifying unique Cape economy stories and making them sing, especially in the critical summer months. The stories regularly go beyond ice cream shops and miniature golf (not that there’s anything wrong with them; believe me, I’m a fan) and give readers a glimpse behind the scenes.

Former Times staff writer Jack Perry’s award-winning series on the challenges of opening and sustaining a new Provincetown restaurant in 2002 was particularly memorable. Current staffer Sarah Shemkus has been digging below the surface to uncover hidden stories of the Cape’s economy, and I hope we’ll read a whole lot more on this topic from her.

The bad: Celebs on the Cape. Years ago I took my in-laws to see Kenny Rogers at the Melody Tent. He put on a good show during which Rogers poked fun at himself by asking a man in the front row whether he was dragged to the concert by his wife. When the man answered “yes,” Rogers paid the husband for every song he recognized. When I read the review in the Times, the writer nailed the schtick perfectly. When Rogers played the Melody Tent the next year, he did the same thing, and the review reflected that. Following year, same show, same review. The show changed little from year to year, and subsequent reviews, while accurate and entertaining, didn’t reveal that fact.

This summer, I’d like to see the Times redeploy their resources. Hit the Melody Tent highlights, sure, and continue great coverage of local theater. But how about covering local bands or more of the fun shows out in Provincetown?

And don’t even get me started on presidential visits to the Vineyard. I admire the Times staff for hustling with the international media for access to the president and his family last summer, but did we need 50-plus stories about the first family’s weeklong visit?

The ugly: Bridge-jumping photos. Many residents and visitors believe bridge-jumping — leaping from low bridges into harbors, rivers, etc. — is a rite of passage on Cape Cod. Many law enforcement officials believe otherwise. In the past five years, two men have died after jumping from the Oyster Harbors drawbridge. Some Cape towns have outlawed that practice; others have posted signs on popular bridges.

Photographers are drawn to bridge-jumping because the activity makes for great pictures of summer fun. Why the Cape Cod Times continues to publish these photos summer after summer is a little less clear. Readers regularly complain about the photos, citing the danger of jumping and the possibility that the photos encourage others.

I don’t know firsthand whether those photos incite others to engage in a risky behavior. However, I am concerned that those photos depict people gleefully breaking the law without proper context, such as a caption that explains the infraction. The Cape Cod Times’ editors mustn’t police the activities of others, but they can choose which photos to publish. Perhaps there’s some other traditional summer activity that’ll make great photos.

This column was originally published in the Cape Cod Times on June 6, 2010.

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