Are the best journalists in Maine Terry Garmey, Derry Rundlett and Harold Pachios?

Partial as I am to the reporters, photographers and editors at our own three daily and Sunday newspapers, these three Maine attorneys can give the best of the best a run for their money if they need to meet head to head.

Pachios is the most recent to flash interviewing skills, most likely honed during his days in President Lyndon Johnson’s White House, where he assisted the president’s press secretary, Bill Moyers.

Attorneys, of course, conduct depositions and question witnesses in court — invaluable experience for a TV interviewer. If you want to see these expert questioners in action, though, you won’t have to travel to the courthouse. Garmey and Rundlett have a show, “Law on the Line,” on Portland’s public access channel, CTN-5, and Pachios has one called “Pachios on the News.”

The programs usually air live and are replayed throughout the month. I have been interviewed on both shows.

The segment with Garmey and Rundlett should be cycling off now that we’re into May, but the interview with Pachios begins it run this Wednesday at 7 p.m. and then will be repeated throughout the month.

There is an obsession with media in Maine that rivals anything I have witnessed in my 40-year newspaper career. And that’s saying something because I have worked in this business as a publisher, editor, columnist, editorial writer, reporter — even a photographer — in five states. I’ve owned or worked at newspapers in a dozen or more states.

As some of my friends like to tell me: That’s what happens when you can’t hold onto a job.

Maine’s media madness translates into a bonanza for the owners of The Portland Press Herald, Maine Sunday Telegram, and our two daily and Sunday papers in Augusta and Waterville, the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. Others in my business, such as my lifelong friends in Bangor, the Warren family, and Alan Baker, owner of the weekly Ellsworth American, are similarly blessed.

Newspapers are still a good business here.

When you are new in town, as I am, lots of folks want to interview you and so I have done dozens of interviews.

The best interviewers I’ve encountered were not the professional journalists. They were Garmey, Rundlett and the effervescent, satirically probing Pachios. He gently takes out the scalpel and slices ever so delicately, laughing as he goes. On the operating table, the patient laughs along with the surgeon.

Pachios worked as a reporter at one time, at the Press Herald, so he came into the interview with a portfolio that was strengthened by the resume he compiled in Washington while working with his friend Moyers.

Pachios’ principal weapon in disarming me, though, came through family history, genetics. When he discovered that my wife, Deborah, is Greek, he played the race card. Full house, royal flush. He wins — and I act as if Irish Catholics aren’t the chosen ones, even though I know differently.

Putty in his hands.

All three men made mincemeat of me. They had me blathering on and on, guard down.

Rundlett used Penobscot County roots. He is originally from Orono and passed my test: Did he know Maine golf great, the late Jimmy Veno?

“One of my best friends,” he replied.

Garmey zeroed in on my family loyalty. My nephew, Hugh, grew up in Saco and clerked for Garmey before graduating from the University of Maine School of Law and following me to Texas, where he is now head of litigation and a partner in one of Texas’ most powerful law firms.

“Garmey’s tough,” Hugh warned. “Tears people apart in court.”

He didn’t tell me about the television part.

Garmey enjoyed informing me that he knows my political views and colors. He doesn’t, but that’s OK.

“People are still trying to figure out if you are a Democrat or Republican,” Pachios said off the air.

The most penetrating question from Garmey was about my role as columnist. He asked if I worry that my views, which are my personal opinions, might be construed — or misconstrued — as viewpoints that I force on our readers through our reporters and in our editorials.

Good question, and one I have never been asked directly.

The answer: I have one vote on the editorial board. Our reporters and editors are not so malleable that I or anyone else could force them to adopt a singular point of view.

When I raise money for a newspaper purchase, I make it crystal clear to investors they will have no say in the running of the newspapers. My job for them is to increase the value of their investment. That does not happen by compromising our journalistic ethics and standards.

We know what these standards are. We have to be honest with ourselves, and we are our own judge and jury. I do not believe in bragging and posturing on this issue. I only need to know in my heart and mind that we are doing what we believe is right.

Still, the Garmey questions resonated.

I write columns because writing is the reason I entered this business. I more or less fell into my first job. Pure luck. Once inside a newspaper, totally without preconceived notions, I found a craft I loved. I ate it up.

My mother, Alyce, was a librarian her entire adult life, in Bangor. My father, Hugh, read several newspapers a day and loved the elbows and intrigue of politics.

My parents loved words but did not mince them. They believed in being direct. They disliked braggarts, arrogance, and pretension. Phonies had no place in their lives.

Journalism, unfortunately, is populated by too many self-serving hypocrites who preach one set of rules and live by another.

A life in newspapers was my lucky calling, and it fulfilled ideals and interests taught by my parents.

Pachios wrangled that out of me.

And more.

His love of newspapers and his innate curiosity sent him after me like a dog gnawing a bone. Chewing hard and smiling all the while.

What did I tell him?

I said I was a less-than-studious English major who stumbled headfirst into a job, taken out of necessity, as a police reporter in Michigan.

I also admitted that the things that motivate and drive me are the basics of journalism: writing, reporting, editing, the public’s right to know, the role of newspapers as a watchdog on government and, now, growing with the technological changes in this business.

Perceptions of journalists as to how well I do my job are of no interest to me. I respect the craft and most of those who practice the craft. But I do not seek affirmation of my goals and vision from them.

Think about it. If most newspapermen and women were as good as they should be at their jobs, would the business be suffering the way that it is? Probably not.

What else did I tell Pachios? See and hear for yourself. Wednesday night at 7, Community Television Network Channel 5.

 

Richard L. Connor is CEO of MaineToday Media, owner of The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. A newspaperman for 40 years, he has served on two Pulitzer Prize for Journalism nominating committees. He can be reached at:

[email protected]