AUGUSTA – It was my pleasure this year to serve as president of the Maine Press Assocation, which represents the state’s newspaper industry.
Last weekend, we had our annual conference, awards banquet and bowling tournament, which concluded my one-year term.
There’s plenty of non-industry nonsense at these gatherings — particularly at the lanes — but this year’s event was notable for its unusual solemnity.
This was not surprising, given our industry’s recent struggles, as this was the last get-together for too many within our little fraternity.
Yet among the swapping of the war stories and saying of goodbyes, an important undercurrent became apparent. Despite the industry’s uncertainty, a vein of rich innovation, optimism, energy, resilience and outright defiance runs through this state’s newspaper community.
This isn’t a side of newspapers many readers or customers see, for good reason.
In our news stories, we strive for detached objectivity and balance.
On the editorial pages, there can be some fire, but always about issues of the day, not about ourselves.
And our advertising and circulation operations are entirely customer-focused. They aim to please, in whatever way possible.
So unless you know a newspaper employee personally, you get few glimpses behind our curtain.
The public traditionally has had little access to the inner workings of newspapers. This model is changing fast, however, and newspapers are changing with it.
Going forward, readers and customers of newspapers will know more about us, how we think, behave and operate, warts and all. Don’t think the irony of being advocates for transparency in government, while acting in opacity ourselves, is lost on us. I know I’m aware of it, and vow to help alter it.
The leaders in our industry are doing this, by inviting participation in their story meetings and creating public spaces in their offices. Some have even opened coffee shops and installed public computer kiosks in this spirit of openness. The positive response to these ideas is invigorating.
Like any invitation, however, this one must be accepted. A newspaper can do all it possibly can to open itself to the public, but without a reciprocal response, the efforts could fall flat.
This where the business hasn’t changed much. Without our loyal readers and advertisers, who may care as much about our existence as we do, the fortunes of newspapers will further languish. We are as strong as our friends and our customers.
So far, these bonds have remained tight. Yet there isn’t a newspaper in this state that takes this relationship for granted. Perhaps, at one time, this was the case. It is not now.
Which brings me back to the people behind Maine’s newspapers. Although our staffs are smaller, our collective talent is enormous. This industry is flush with expertise and guile, wit and wisdom.
Our conscience is embodied by Alan Baker, the esteemed publisher of the Ellsworth American, and our future by Mike Shepherd, a crack summer reporter at the Kennebec Journal who now leads one of the region’s best college newspapers, the Maine Campus at the University of Maine at Orono.
Above all else, it’s a determined bunch. If Maine’s newspapers can just accomplish one-tenth of what we believe we can, this industry is ripe for a renaissance.
This is the one story that newspapers struggle to tell, because talking about ourselves is anathema to our existence. Yet as we enter this new era of transparency and participation in the news business, readers should expect to hear it more and more.
– Special to the Press Herald