The Working Waterfront

We asked, you answered

THOUGHTS INSPIRED BY OUR READER SURVEY

Tom Groening
Posted 2020-09-09
Last Modified 2020-10-04

I didn’t coin the phrase, but I wholeheartedly endorse its wisdom: If you’re not having fun editing a newspaper, you’re doing it wrong.

It’s been great fun for me to edit The Working Waterfront these last seven-plus years. One of the joys, after working at weekly and daily newspapers, is that, as a ten-times-a-year publication, we can cherry pick from all that is happening on Maine’s rich and colorful coast and islands. We’re liberated from the incremental nature of developing stories, and instead we can swoop in to sum up a percolating issue or trend.

The other side of the coin, though, is trying to choose from the sheer volume of interesting stories we might pursue. It’s like arriving at a free all-you-can-eat buffet right after eating a big meal.

Which stories to feature is an important question to consider. A few years ago, in conversation with some Island Institute staff and a board member, we arrived at some topics to guide us: the people of the coast and islands doing interesting things; the economy, especially as it relates to the ocean; the environment; tourism; the arts; and our vibrant downtowns.

We don’t want to be cheerleaders, but we begin our work recognizing that the Maine coast is a wonderful place to live. We aim to have a clear-eyed view of its assets and threats, its successes and failures.

And the “we” I employ here is not a rhetorical device. The Working Waterfront relies on a group of first-rate freelance writers, photographers, and columnists. Their availability may speak to the fiscal challenges for-profit journalism faces, but I do not take their contributions lightly. In fact, if you worked with me, you’d hear me bragging about them and their work pretty regularly.

Almost a year ago now, we surveyed you folks, both in print and online, on what you thought of this newspaper. Almost 200 of you tore out and completed the survey page and mailed it to me. Another 400 or so completed the survey online. Thank you!
Some of the highlights include:

  • More than 40 percent have read it ten years or more
  • About 32 percent live in the Midcoast, about 20 percent in Southern Maine, about 18 percent live Downeast, and 30 percent live year-round out of state
  • You want coverage of island issues (90 percent), coastal communities (87 percent), the environment (80 percent), land use issues (74 percent), and fishing (67 percent).
  • Some 50 percent to 80 percent regularly read our columnists
  • More than 90 percent rate our writing as good to excellent
  • 87 percent rate our photograph as good to excellent

One of the biggest takeaways from the survey was what you’d like to see more of—local news (55 percent) and big-picture, overview stories (51 percent). Ideally, I’d like to feature a big-picture “cover story” in each issue, with shorter stories, columns, and book reviews inside.

I hesitate to compare our modest paper to the late, great Maine Times, but our former editor, Dave Platt, went from that statewide weekly to this monthly, so maybe that paper’s template is embedded in The Working Waterfront.

Which leads back to my “if it’s not fun, you’re not doing it right” maxim—since the pandemic hit in mid-March, we’ve not been able to hit our stride. I had written a big-picture profile of Biddeford in the February-March issue, and planned to continue north through four other coastal towns facing identity challenges (the names remain secret), but the virus derailed that plan—for now.

By necessity, much of our content these last months has been guest columns and essays, and I don’t regret choosing these pieces. I think thoughtful, reflective writing about our corner of the world has been the right thing to serve up. Still, I hope we can get out and about again, and meet with the folks working to keep our coast and islands the treasures they are.

Please keep reading, and stay in touch. If you’re willing to let us publish your thoughts on the above, put “Reader” in the subject line of an email. I’m at tgroening@islandinstitute.org.

Tom Groening is editor of The Working Waterfront.