The Future of Political Journalism in Maine
Much about the future of political journalism in Maine and America is murky, but one thing is becoming increasingly clear: a great deal of the public interest and political reporting of tomorrow won't be making money, and it won't be meant to.
Several steps toward that future were made this week, the most obvious of which is the founding of a new non-profit organization dedicated to investigative journalism, created by former Kennebec Journal/Morning Sentinel publisher John Christie.
The new venture, online at pinetreewatchdog.org, consists of a team made up of both professional journalists and student interns whose work will be edited by Christie and printed in the Bangor Daily News, Lewiston Sun Journal, Ellsworth American and the Mount Desert Islander.
The organization intends to help "fill the gap between the diminished in-depth reporting from the existing Maine media and the need of the state's citizens to be fully informed about the actions of its government and public servants."
According to a story on MPBN (which is, of course, also a non-profit news outlet), Christie's Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting will have its first article published on Thursday. It's a look at the way industry lobbyists may have had a hand in the changes Governor Baldacci made to the recent tax reform bill, now headed for a veto referendum.
The Public News Service, another organization with a non-profit, public-interest journalism model, is also looking to set up shop in Maine but with a focus on radio rather than print reporting. According to their website, the group seeks to "examine the effects of policy on areas that receive too little coverage, lifting up often marginalized voices and making greater journalistic breadth available to broadcasters and publishers." Their Maine-based service is currently listed as "in development."
In the Bangor area, a new progressive talk radio station is making its debut this week, not because careful market research says that such a station will thrive, but instead because politically-active author Stephen King wants to "get this point of view across on radio" and has the money to do it.
The new station will feature a variety of liberal-leaning nationally syndicated shows, including Rachel Maddow, Ed Schultz, and Randi Rhodes and news from CNN. According to a message board post by manager Bobby Russell, the station is looking for a local show that will fit the new format.
Then, of course, there's the work being done by independent bloggers, and not just enthusiastic amateurs. Well-known Maine journalist and author Colin Woodard, for instance, who writes in-depth pieces for a wide variety of newspapers and magazines (including Down East) has been doing some of his best reporting recently on his personal blog, including this detailed post on the money trail behind the defeat of Question 1.
According to the website of Christie's new organization, "In Maine, statehouse coverage has declined from about 20 year-round reporters in 1989 to 10 in 1999 to the current ?ve." Maine journalism seem to be decaying with a half-life of ten years. If we don't see a resurgence of the traditional press, or if this new model of public and personally-funded media doesn't take hold, the numbers say we'll end this decade with a statehouse press corps of two and a half reporters.