FARMINGTON – Local news is for the community. The University of Maine Farmington hosted a panel on the future of local news in Maine on Tuesday evening. Amber Stone, who teaches the Intro to Journalism course at UMF and was the former owner of the Daily Bulldog, organized the panel, which included Andre Cormier, executive director of the Daily Bulldog; David Dahl, editor of The Maine Monitor; J.W. Oliver, editor of The Harpswell Anchor; and Janice Thompson, director of development and operations at The Harpswell Anchor.
These leaders of Maine nonprofit news organizations came together to discuss the role of local news in Maine small communities and their goals as newspapers. They touched on how to effectively report local news in a nonpartisan way and gave advice for their audience of prospective future journalists.
“News should not be a product that’s only accessible to the elite,” said Oliver, who took journalism courses at UMF with Luann Yetter and graduated in 2010. During his time in Farmington, he was the editor of the campus newspaper, The Farmington Flyer. Oliver moved on to work for the Lincoln News for over a decade. He saw firsthand the growing frustrations in the journalism industry and ultimately came to the realization, along with many of his peers, that the for-profit newspaper model does not work in this new climate.
The panel explained how non-profit newspapers are funded, relying completely on donations from their communities. All donations, big and small, help to pay for reporters, and without reporters, there is no news.
“Journalism costs money,” Dahl said. “It cost money when I was in the for-profit side of the world, it still costs money in the nonprofit side.”
Dahl formerly worked for the Boston Globe and witnessed the layoffs that came with the end of print publication. “We successfully pivoted. Other news organizations as I mentioned are still struggling to do that,” Dahl said. He shared that over the last 15 years, more than 2,100 newspapers have been lost nationwide, cutting the number of employees in half.
Andre Cormier, executive director for Central Maine Media Alliance, MBTV Community Access TV and Daily Bulldog, brought a unique perspective to the panel with his background in TV news. From his perspective working at various news broadcasters in Maine, he noticed that operations were getting smaller, people were leaving careers in journalism for more fruitful avenues, similar to what was happening in the print news world. Both were labeled as dying industries.
“This is still needed in some capacity but we can’t do it the way we’ve been doing it,” Cormier said about the news industry. He noticed that when an event happened locally, people were beginning to look towards the easily accessible social media rather than the 6 o’clock news for their information. Unfortunately, information from social media is not always reliable or accurate, and a trusted and accessible newspaper still has a place in the community.
The panelists discussed a solution to these problems: nonprofit news organizations.
The panel used the term “news desert,” which refers to an area not covered by a local newspaper. These areas are expanding as many newspapers are lost in the modern world. This is why hyperlocal papers like The Daily Bulldog, The Maine Monitor and The Harpswell Anchor are vital to communities and important to support. The panel’s host Stone gave the example of the LEAP building explosion in 2019. While the incident was documented in newspapers and media outlets across the country, Franklin County residents could find their news right at the Daily Bulldog – including updates and follow-up on the incident.
Thompson shared that the widely reported shark killing that occurred in Harpswell three years ago wasn’t written about in the local paper. The small community had to rely on larger sources for this news. This begs the question, where can small communities get reliable news on events that aren’t as monumental? In the case of local election information or a fire down the road? The answer is the local newspaper.
“We say, this paper is your paper,” Thompson said. In other words, local news is for the community.
A recording of the panel will be made available at MtBlueTV.org