Will Sennott. Credit: Tony Luong

Will Sennott is The Lights’ first reporter and you’ll recognize him as the talent behind the Blue Harvest Fisheries investigative report published in partnership with ProPublica.

Will grew up in a family of journalists, surrounded by “old guard” reporters who taught him journalism was more of a trade than an art form. His dad worked for The Boston Globe and his uncles for the Boston Herald, Providence Journal, and Minneapolis Star Tribune. His grandfather was a photographer for UPI.

In the late 90s, The Globe assigned his father to be its Middle East bureau chief. His family moved from Charlestown to Jerusalem. It was the height of the Second Intifada, and he says growing up in a war zone, at the center of such an important story, formed his childhood and later his development as a journalist. “We didn't have snow days, we had bomb days,” he said. “You learn a lot in a war zone, even as a kid. I learned that humanity, dignity, and also humor peak through in even the most desperate places. And I learned from my dad the importance of telling those stories.”

His middle and high school years were spent in Cambridge and Harvard, Mass., and he graduated from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in 2019 with majors in history and creative writing. Will says of studying history, “journalism is a similar trade — reporting is a first draft of history.” He reminds us that no story exists in a vacuum, there is a historical backdrop, and reporting needs to provide proper context.

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Will worked at the university newspaper for three years covering the small cities of Northampton and Easthampton. Fresh out of college, Will was hired by The Vineyard Gazette where he latched on to the waterfront beat. He described the Vineyard as quaint, but said he was drawn to the fishing industry because the stories carried local importance but also connected to national and global issues of labor, politics and climate change. During the pandemic, the weekly newspaper struggled financially and he was the first to be laid off. 

The lure of the largest commercial fishing port in the country was still strong, and as a freelancer for The Boston Globe, he began writing about the New Bedford waterfront. And that’s when Will met some of The Light’s founders and made the decision to move to New Bedford in hopes he could persuade them to hire him for what he described as an “incredible opportunity.” In February 2021, they did.

In the early days, as The Light was still developing its voice, Will helped editors tell the story of COVID-19's toll on the people of New Bedford. As The Light grew from an organization with no physical office to a focused team of beat reporters working inside the Kilburn Mill, Will notes that the theme of “diving deep into challenging topics endures.” He has hope in the future media ecosystem. “It's a bleak time for journalism. There are less and less jobs and trust in the media is declining,” he said. “I'm proud to be part of an organization that is fighting against that on both fronts.”

Investigation: How foreign equity hooked New England’s fishing industry” illustrated The Light's ability to tell not just one big story, but to comprehensively communicate the depth and history of fishing regulations. In an industry that has very little transparency, Will’s reporting — along with the work of colleague Anastasia Lennon — has brought more awareness to the challenges faced by local fishermen. It allows the people of the industry to become engaged and fight for what is best for their future.

Will highlights the courage of Capt. Jerry Leeman, the primary voice in the story. The true nature of the reporting, though, is that over the course of nine months, dozens of fishermen were interviewed. In an effort to ensure proper insight and context, a lot of untold reporting becomes emblematic of the greater narrative.

Will plans to continue covering the fishing beat, along with the coming offshore wind industry. He also hopes to cover more city government issues, which he enjoys. He is excited to dive back into daily stories that are important to the people of Greater New Bedford.

Meanwhile, the investigation spurred three U.S. senators to call for greater transparency and more scrutiny of foreign ownership within the New England fishing industry. And Will says it is rewarding to hear from fishermen that the story accurately reflects their struggles. By exposing the wealth disparities inherent in today's fishing industry, Will hopes he is helping local families understand what they're up against as they continue to fight for their livelihoods.