Friday, January 06, 2006

Investigate that!

For the most part, Maine’s newspapers no longer do investigative journalism. Occasionally, they’ll run a four, or six-part series, on topics like “poverty in Maine, or “underage drinking in Maine”, or the ever-popular, “teen-age suicide in Maine”, but generally, the need to sell advertising keeps them comfortably in the middle of the road. This need to fill advertising space not only keeps them conservative (I mean this in the sense of not-willing to take chances, as we all know that the media has a liberal bias, right?) in their content, but also prevents them from devoting the substantial column inches necessary to handle say, a 6,000 to 10,000 word investigative piece on some aspect of Maine, ala magazines like The Atlantic Monthly, Mother Jones and other print journals devoted to the investigative side of journalism. Oh for a new and updated version of The Maine Times!

A couple of former gumshoe journalists, who occupied the trenches at Maine newspapers in the past, have taken their craft from the print realm, over to the cyber side of news. Roberta Scruggs, a former award-winning writer at both the Portland Press Herald and Lewiston Sun Journal, has started The Scruggs Report, focusing Maine’s rugged outdoors and the issues affecting it. While Scruggs offers free content for readers to preview, the site charges for most of its material. This might be off-putting for some, but given the quality and the scope of Scruggs’ work, the girl’s ‘gotta eat, too! A good introduction to the site might be her expose of Inland, Fisheries, and Wildlife Commissioner, Danny Martin’s tour of Moosehead Lake this fall. Apparently the Baldacci call for belt-tightening regarding unnecessary travel doesn’t apply to Martin.

Former Portland newshound, Chris Busby, has given those of us who remember the glory days of the old Casco Bay Weekly, something to read. While in its early stages of development, Busby’s, The Bollard, promises to deliver news with a healthy helping of irreverence and muckraking. A good example of this was his channeling of Al Diamon, and his annual “25 Ideas for a Better Portland” column. Busby invokes the ghost of Diamons past while offering his readers his condensed version of “10 Ideas for a Greater, Greater Portland.” In addition to serving up tongue-in-cheek exercises like this one, The Bollard is chock full of music reviews, happenings about town, interviews with cutting-edge entrepreneurs and others, as well as a substantial helping of Busby, being Busby, reporting on the goings-on at city hall, and Portland’s push toward its holy grail of being a “gentrified, SUV-kind of town.” The best part of all this—it’s free! Apparently the ads (all local and non-corporate) on the site help him to pay a small pittance to his writing staff.

If Maine’s newspapers aren’t cutting it for you, well, there are some online options you can now check out in order to get your hard news jones on.


Crazy Jane said...

Another thing I've seen in small community journalism is that in putting maximum profit at the top of the priorities list, few small town newspapers are willing to pay reporters much more than entry level salaries.

In most of the small town papers I'm familiar with, they're staffed largely by 20 somethings just learning the trade.

country mouse said...

I went to school with Chris. We were on a the Audubon Expedition Institute bus together traveling the Pacific Northwest just about ten years ago. How funny to see his name pop up here.