Editor's Notebook: Staying focused, but fresh, under the dome
I recently finished reading Stephen King's mammoth new novel, "Under the Dome." It's a nearly 1,100-page page-turner about what happens to folks in the fictional Maine (where else?) town of Chester's Mill after an invisible, indestructible dome suddenly cuts the community off from the rest of the world.
In a way, it's like the dome we operate under at The Forecaster. We live and breathe local news and don't rely on wire services or syndicated features to fill our pages. If something happens outside the 13 towns and cities we cover, we generally ignore it (unless, of course, there's a local connection).
That doesn't diminish the importance or value of news that doesn't originate under our dome. It just means we're committed to our mission and to using our resources accordingly.
But even the mightiest domes are permeable. King's dome over Chester's Mill allows wisps of fresh air into Chester's Mill. Ours now lets in some stories that don't compromise our commitment to local news or deplete our resources, while providing coverage of important statewide issues.
We've accomplished this by becoming a media partner of the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, an independent, nonpartisan (and soon-to-be nonprofit) organization founded last year to provide in-depth reporting on state government and politics. The center provides The Forecaster with reporting of depth and scope that we otherwise couldn't afford to produce.
Its founder and editor is John Christie, former president and publisher of the Central Maine Newspapers. He has enlisted talented, experienced and reputable reporters and writers – including my predecessor at The Forecaster, Marian McCue – to write stories that help us keep our readers fully informed about the actions of their government and public servants.
So far, we've run two stories from the center. The most recent was last week's piece about Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap ("Maine secretary of state walks thin line between public, private interests") by Naomi Schalit, the center's executive director and senior reporter, and former opinion page editor of the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. Her piece was preceded by the first in a series of reports about the state's leading gubernatorial candidates; the March 10 article by McCue and Christie examined Republican Les Otten ("Risky business: Les Otten and the rise, fall of American Skiing Co.").
Both stories took investments of research, time and energy that papers the size of The Forecaster can only rarely afford. They also included disclosures about the authors that some critics have claimed suggest the interests of the center are more partisan than not. Obviously, our judgment was that the disclosures were worth making, but not significant enough to disqualify the reporting. We've also published reactions to the stories from our readers, including a lengthy response this week from Otten.
It's only been a few weeks, but the first two stories and the reactions to them have already accomplished what we hoped for through our affiliation with the center. They've delved into aspects of state government and politics too often overlooked by even the state's largest newspapers. They've illuminated facts that are probably unfamiliar to anyone who isn't an Augusta insider and – in particular with the story about Otten – that would have escaped readers with short memories or those who haven't had the benefit of living in Maine for a decade or more. They've educated, informed and engaged the public.
I'm looking forward to the center's future stories, and I hope you are, too.
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In other news from under our dome, I'm happy to introduce our newest reporter, Emily Parkhurst.
Emily previously worked at the Independent newspapers, covering Windham, Gray and Raymond, and has been a contributor to The Portland Phoenix. She has been an instructor at Central Maine Community College in Auburn, York County Community College in Wells and Southern Maine Community College in South Portland, and advises the student newspaper at SMCC.
Emily is also an accomplished musician and private music teacher, who previously played second clarinet with the Bangor Symphony Orchestra.
She covers Falmouth and Scarborough, and will also contribute occasional stories about the arts throughout our coverage area. You can reach her at 781-3661 ext. 125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter, you'll find her at twitter.com/emilyparkhurst.
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Finally, if you're on Facebook or thinking about joining the online network, you're invited to become a fan of The Forecaster at facebook.com/theforecaster. You'll get news updates, be able to comment on stories and interact with other readers and members of The Forecaster staff.