Wednesday, August 22, 2007

When print and writing mattered

I have a great deal of passion for Maine, which I hope is obvious in some of the things that I write about. Sometimes, passion can gain the upper hand and get the best of you, occasionally leaving you with egg on the face, or stepping in something worse.

The advent of blogging and the relative ease of putting up a blog site, in many ways, represent the digital equivalent of the bygone broadsheet, or political tract of the past, at least for some bloggers. These publications from the past covered a wide variety of subjects, including satire, politics, popular history and even poetry and the popular music of the day. These were precursors to what we know today as newspapers.

Newspapers no longer represent the sole source of news that they once did. Even 35 years ago, for a ten-year-old like me, reading the daily paper, particularly the morning sports, was part my morning ritual before school, with buttered toast, cereal and orange juice.

The art of journalism and the daily newspaper are in danger of becoming irrelevant or worse—ignored. Maine’s remaining dailies make me question why I bother with my morning 200 yard round trip to collect my newspaper. I stubbornly hang on, having just dropped the Lewiston Sun Journal, in favor of the Portland Press Herald (involving the old lesser of two evils coin flip), as well as subscribing to The Christian Science Monitor, which is mailed. Still, an occasional feature article, or commentary, or even the rare investigative piece reminds me why I fell in love with newspapers and have maintained an affinity for the printed page, for nearly four decades. I treasure The Monitor’s solid reporting, with its measured, take-a-step-back style of journalism. Even so, I need my morning fix of coffee and newsprint, served up local style. I don’t know what I’ll do if the Press Herald decides to lay off any more staff and waters down its product any more.

A nostalgic blast from Maine’s journalism past got delivered the other day, courtesy of the state’s Books by Mail program. I received John Cole’s classic, In Maine and have been thoroughly enjoying his essays, most written 30 years ago.

Cole, the renowned newspaperman and editor of first, The Brunswick Record, which later merged with Peter Cox’s Bath weekly, to become the Brunwick Times-Record, where Cole and Cox served as co-editors. Later, the two would start the Maine Times, which became the state’s last consistently solid alternative newspaper, given solely to hard news reporting.

For nearly a decade, Maine Times was the paper to read if you really wanted the scoop on the cutting edge news in the Pine Tree State. I remember seeking it out as a high school student and like a moth drawn to a flame, I devoured the latest investigative story on an aspect of my home state that I wasn’t going to read anywhere else. Pre-internet, publications like Maine Times is where you got your fix if you wanted unfiltered journalism with some bite.

Cole’s passion and zeal for Maine’s unique qualities comes throughout In Maine, whether he’s writing about fishing, which he loved, or skating across a sheet of ice on his beloved Merrymeeting Bay. For someone from away, Cole understood what made Maine (and still makes it) a unique place to visit, or call home.

Like John Gould before him, Cole grasped the culture and community peculiarities, which made him a perfect newspaperman. It’s interesting how these two men, both transplants, became spokesmen for their adopted home state.

If you’ve never taken the time to read Cole, I’d recommend the book of essays, or even a trek to the Maine State Library, at some point, to read through back issues of the Maine Times and reminisce about the days when print was king and newspapers and their writers, still mattered.

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