In 1957, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg travelled to Rutherford, New Jersey, to meet one of their literary idols, William Carlos Williams. They asked the esteemed poet and physician, who was then 73, if he had any words of wisdom. As recounted in Gerald Nicosia’s biography of Kerouac, Memory Babe, Williams “pointed out the window with a smile and said, ‘There’s a lot of bastards out there.’”
This anecdote has come to mind repeatedly since last spring, when The Bollard published “Mean Magazine,” an exposé about the toxic work culture inside one of Maine’s largest media companies. The investigative reporting we’d done in the preceding dozen years built our reputation for watchdog journalism, and readers routinely tipped us off about all sorts of skullduggery. But the flood of news tips that arrived in the wake of “Mean Magazine” was staggering — especially for a publication with no staff reporters and only one full-time employee, yours truly.
In the months that followed, our work forced a state legislator credibly accused of preying on teenage girls to resign and stop working with kids, Bollard editor-at-large Crash Barry infiltrated and exposed a racist propaganda operation controlled by another Maine lawmaker, and we shook up the gubernatorial race with several big scoops. I crossed those stories and others off the list, but that list just keeps getting longer. Dr. Williams’ wisdom still rings true. Scoundrels abound — corrupt politicians, really bad bosses, lousy landlords and corporate creeps who are free to keep screwing Mainers over today only because no one has exposed them yet.
And that’s only half the problem. Meanwhile, there are visionary artists, brilliant writers, awesome musicians and bold entrepreneurs all over this state struggling due to a lack of exposure, the inability to reach a larger local audience without selling their soul to Facebook.
These are consequences of the death of journalism: bad actors run amok while good work withers in the dark. Together we’re going to change that in Maine, starting now.
This is the launch of Mainer, the new incarnation of The Bollard. Mainer is built to publish much more content more often than once a month. We’re expanding our editorial team and designing a new website this summer, at mainernews.com, to complement the print edition, which is also growing in size and circulation. Our goal is to give you the equivalent of a new issue of The Bollard online every week, with timely reporting, commentary and arts coverage delivered daily. To accomplish this, we’re empowering you, our readers, to join us in this mission as we collectively resurrect local journalism in the Pine Tree State.
The erosion of good reporting is not a new problem around here. Crash and I met two decades ago when I was editing Casco Bay Weekly, the homegrown paper established in 1988 to provide an alternative to the mainstream press. The oligarch who owned CBW purged the entire newsroom in 2002 after my staff and I pushed back against his plan to slash our budget. The alt-weekly was then sold and died in 2004. I founded The Bollard the following year to keep its spirit alive, to keep asking hard questions, providing space for marginalized views, and highlighting the art and culture blooming underground.
As The Bollard grew, the rest of the media in Maine shrank or disappeared. There are now fewer reporters working here than at any time in the modern history of the state. In recent months, Maine Public discontinued its nightly radio news program, Maine Things Considered, and the Portland Phoenix ceased publication. Of the print-media outlets that remain, the vast majority are owned by one company, Masthead Maine, that is itself in grave financial condition. (Masthead owned half of the Phoenix and had been trying, unsuccessfully, to sell ads in the free paper.)
Earlier this year, Masthead Maine’s flagship newspapers, the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, made headlines nationwide when Stephen King decried their decision to stop paying local freelancers to write book reviews — an expense, likely amounting to about a hundred bucks a week, that Masthead claimed it could no longer afford. In March, the company’s largest union posted notes on Twitter from workers in every department begging for a raise. Burdened by years of layoffs and low pay, employees wrote that they are now struggling to afford necessities like groceries.
I’ve watched with dismay as a stream of reporters have left their desks at local papers to take PR jobs with the state’s biggest corporations and institutions, like MaineHealth and Bath Iron Works. I can’t fault these former colleagues for that decision — everybody’s gotta eat — but this migration from news to propaganda reinforces one of the worst aspects of corporate media: its cozy relationship with powerful forces that should be challenged by the press, not coddled.
The reporting done at papers like the Press Herald and Bangor Daily News is vital to keeping the public informed of basic facts. But the skeleton crews in those newsrooms can’t dig up stories or pursue in-depth investigations. Shrinking editorial budgets reduce reporters to the role of stenographers, scrambling to cover all the school board meetings, house fires and press conferences that happen every day. The product that results is increasingly irrelevant to everyday people who know there’s more to the story and are tired of the same old bullshit.
Mainer is the publication with the guts to push past the PR and confront the root causes of the problems we face, to tell people what’s really going on in the halls of power every day and what’s happening in the concert halls, galleries, paint-splattered studios and punk-rock basements where the spirit of free people flowers. Because it’s not enough to be informed — we must also be inspired.
Crash and I and our team of contributors have the skills, the experience, the local connections and the passionate determination to do this. Tens of thousands of readers now recognize The Bollard as Maine’s only independent news and arts magazine. Mainer expands and enhances the journalism we’ve been doing all these years, giving you a lot more local news and arts coverage on a daily basis.
The new website, which launches this Labor Day, also enables us to share music, short films and audio documentaries with you, and to provide curated guides to concerts, plays, dance performances, art exhibits, festivals and other happenings. Crash has spent the past two and a half years working on a mind-blowing investigative podcast, called “Devils and Dirtbags,” that will debut when our website goes live in early September. He’ll also be hosting and producing the weekly Mainer podcast, a mix of news, rants, interviews, music and comedy.
In some ways, the Mainer website will operate like The Bollard’s old site did from 2005 to 2008, the year this magazine became a monthly publication, which forced us to scale back our online content and focus on print to survive the Great Recession. In those early years we broke news all the time, from major stories (like secret meetings between Portland officials and hotel developers scheming to privatize the Maine State Pier) to news briefs and gossip (restaurants opening and closing, the real lives of politicians like Ethan Strimling and Chellie Pingree). We published interesting interviews with unconventional Mainers every week and presented slideshows of local artwork and photography.
All that’s coming back, as well as reviews of Maine books, plays, exhibits and concerts. All of The Bollard’s contributors are onboard Mainer, and we’ll be bringing the work of many more local writers and artists to you beginning this summer, including voices from prison, immigrant communities and tribal lands. One of our most popular features, That’s My Dump!, returns next month for the inaugural issue of Mainer.
Mainer will also publish short fiction, memoirs and poetry by Maine writers. And we’re reviving something we haven’t done in years: satire. Seth Macy, the irascible satirist who created the popular New Maine News website, is joining the team. To me, there’s wisdom both in Williams’ words to the young Beats and in the way he said them, with a smile. We may not be able to take down all the bastards out there, but we can damn sure have a good laugh at their expense.
Mainer is published by the newly incorporated Mainer News Cooperative, an enterprise collectively owned and guided by its workers and contributors. The Bollard published a four-part series on cooperatives in 2017. I believe bringing democracy to the workplace — empowering people with ownership, a fair share of profits and more control over their jobs — is key to addressing inequality and the plague of personal and societal ills caused by the anxious subsistence existence forced upon us by economic elites.
While that’s a fine idea, it’s useless in the absence of fellow workers. It was Crash who pointed the way toward the business model that will help us grow, one that includes a stronger relationship with you. For the price of a draft of Maine craft beer (plus tip, of course), readers can become fellow “Mainers,” subscribers whose support enables us to provide more content not only to them, but for the edification and entertainment of everyone.
This is the approach The Guardian successfully adopted a few years ago after struggling, as all print media have in the Internet Age, to produce quality journalism with drastically reduced advertising revenue. Like The Guardian’s website, there are no paywalls and no limits to the number of posts you can read on mainernews.com. Subscribing to Mainer gives you perks — like early access to podcasts, bonus content, and an online forum to share your views — but it’s not like buying a product that you enjoy to the exclusion of everyone else. It’s a modest contribution to a collective effort that has more power to create positive change by virtue of the fact that it’s free and easily accessible to all.
You may not have appreciated this before, but The Bollard’s ability to bust bad guys was always made possible by you. If this was, say, a blog with a readership limited to my mom and a few old drinking buddies, nothing we published would have any effect. It’s because this publication reaches upwards of 50,000 people in print and online every month — including many who speak out and fight back when they see wrongdoing — that this work makes a difference in our community.
You are also the reason we’ve had the money to keep publishing for 14 years. As a free magazine, The Bollard’s sole source of revenue has been the independently owned businesses and local nonprofits that pay us to reach you — to let you know who’s playing on their stage this month, what’s new on the menu, what’s for sale at their shop. Your support of those enterprises and organizations is the reason they’ve continued to support us, and we all thank you for that.
As a founding member of the Portland Independent Business and Community Alliance (the organization that created the Portland Buy Local campaign in 2006), this publication has always championed the interests of Maine’s entrepreneurs and their fellow workers. The Bollard could continue to publish for years to come on the strength of the support we receive from advertisers, and we can and will continue to grow that base of support. But even if we doubled the size of this magazine, that still wouldn’t come close to closing the ever-widening gap between what we’re able to print and post every month and what you need and want to know every day. Our new website solves that problem by delivering content daily to the device of your choice.
Here’s some news you need to know that you won’t read anywhere else. The two companies still publishing daily newspapers in Maine, Masthead and the Bangor Daily, are eagerly partnering with Google this year to “experiment with ways,” as the Press Herald put it, to make more money from online readers. As documented in Harvard Business School professor emerita Shoshana Zuboff’s monumental new book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, Google, like Facebook, makes its billions by spying on you, sucking up countless details about your daily life, then processing all that data into “prediction products” they can sell to advertisers (and who knows who else?) that profit by targeting you with their messages. This is effectively done without your consent or even your awareness, by design.
This nefarious business practice has been so phenomenally successful that Google and Facebook hoover up almost all the advertising dollars that once supported local newspapers and magazines. Maine’s struggling news publishers are now turning to this wolf in sheep’s clothing to save them from utter ruin, offering their readers to this deceitful, faceless, monopolistic and near-omniscient digital deity like we’re so many sacrificial lambs. Google promises to redesign the newspapers’ websites (for free, of course) with new “built-in audience-engagement and revenue-development features” that give the tech giant a much larger role in determining what readers see on the screen. What does Google get in return for its massive investment in newspaper websites? In addition to good PR casting itself as the savior of journalism (bullshit that’s dutifully reported by the papers themselves), it gets even more personal information about us that it can sell for corporate profits.
“Audience-engagement features”? I don’t need an algorithm to know Mainers still value good journalism, because I’m the guy who’s been delivering The Bollard to hundreds of markets, restaurants, libraries and shops every month and I’ve seen it firsthand: nearly every copy gets picked up. Mainer will never target you with creepy ads based on corporate espionage, or sell or share your personal information with anyone. Neither will we lower our editorial standards to save a few bucks, filling the “news hole” with deceptive “sponsored content,” rewritten press releases and clickbait. Our “audience-engagement” model is to write about important subjects in a compelling way, from a human perspective, with style and wit. That’s it.
The Mainer News Cooperative isn’t in this business for the money. All profits will be shared among the workers who produce the publication (including our freelance contributors) and reinvested to create more content. With your support, we’ll hire a couple reporters and an arts editor this summer, as well as an advertising representative or two. We’ll also be beefing up our freelance budget to present a greater diversity of Maine voices and views.
We aren’t building this company in hopes of selling it for a bundle someday. To the contrary, another reason we’ve reformed as a cooperative is to ensure this type of journalism can continue for decades to come. This includes a dedication to mentoring the next generation of journalists through internships and other opportunities to learn the craft without amassing a mountain of student debt.
The Bollard was a Portland-centric publication. Mainer covers interesting people and places statewide. This is partly a consequence of the fact that, largely due to rising rents and home prices, most of our contributors (including Crash and I) don’t live in the Forest City anymore. But it’s also a recognition that there are great things happening in other Maine cities and towns, and people in the most populous part of the state have few ways to find out about this stuff.
Here’s the bottom line. Like The Bollard, Mainer exists to serve our community. The intent of everything we publish is to make Maine a more prosperous, just and enjoyable place to live. We do this in many ways: exposing injustice, promoting the arts, providing an affordable way for local businesses to connect with local people without selling everyone out to Silicon Valley and Wall Street.
The more readers and business owners we have on our side as subscribers and advertisers, the more Mainer can do for everyone’s benefit. I hope you’ll consider joining us. Just think: every time a Mainer investigation takes out another scoundrel, you’ll smile knowing that you are one of the people who made that happen. You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing there’s a team of journalists working with your support, on your behalf, willing and able to answer the call when you encounter a problem we can help fix.
There are a lot of bastards out there. Thanks to you, soon there’ll be a lot fewer.
Mainer publisher and editor-in-chief Chris Busby can be reached at 252-8211 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Message from Comrade Crash
Since Comrade Busby eloquently explained The Bollard’s metamorphosis and the reasons why Maine needs Mainer, it’s my job to ask you to help us pay for it. Please visit mainernews.com and subscribe for $9 a month to support journalism that comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. That’s only 30 cents a day for the sharpest reporting, photography, art and criticism published in Maine. And that price drops with our other deals: $15 a month gets you two Mainer subscriptions, so you and your significant other can join the team. Or get an annual subscription for even deeper discounts: $100 for one subscription, $150 for a couple, $200 for a family of three, $250 for a gang of five (a rate that brings the cost down to a mere 13 cents per diem). If you’re short on cash but still want to help, become a Mainer “ambassador” — convince five friends to subscribe and you’ll be rewarded with a free year’s subscription.
Business owners and others with the means to do so are encouraged to join at the Founder level ($1,000 and up). Founders get a lifetime subscription and a Mainer print, digital and podcast sponsorship package guaranteed to reach over 50,000 locals who love Maine as much as you do. If you don’t own a business, you can generously donate the Mainer advertising bundle to your favorite non-profits or starving artists to promote their causes and creations. Or get a whole bunch of annual subscriptions to distribute as thoughtful gifts for your family, friends and colleagues.
In keeping with the spirit of The Bollard, mainernews.com will be free for everyone. No paywall or passwords or article limits. But subscribers get tons of perks, including invites to monthly meet-ups at our favorite watering holes, special deals from our advertisers and discounts on Mainer t-shirts, hoodies and other cool schwag. Subscribers also have the ability to comment on Mainer stories and interact with fellow Mainers on our troll-free, subscriber-only forums, a place for respectful dialogue, debate and witty repartee. Plus subscribers get early access to podcasts and digital extras like monthly live-chats with Mainer staff and other bonus content.
(Speaking of podcasts, while Busby, that ink-stained rascal, captains the expanded Mainer in print and online, I’m in charge of Mainer’s podcasting division. Several exciting projects are in the pipeline, highlighting awesome Maine music, comedy and storytelling. I’ll be hosting the weekly Mainer podcast as well as “Devils and Dirtbags,” a true-crime investigative series featuring tales of a variety of villains, from suspected killers to soul murderers, scumbags, conmen and liars.)
For the past year, Comrade Busby and I have worked to create Mainer in response to the rapidly eroding media landscape. We’re seizing this crucial opportunity to resurrect Maine’s dying news industry by providing locals with more meaningful content and high-impact, long-form journalism. I’m committed to helping Busby expand our newsroom this year. In 2020, I envision Mainer employing 10 full-time muckrakers working statewide to find scoops, interrogate politicians, expose corporate fraudsters and deliver the insightful, in-depth arts and cultural coverage that Maine deserves. Reporters interested in joining the team should e-mail a cover letter, resume and clips to email@example.com.
Which brings us back to the money. The sooner you sign up, the sooner we’ll be able to hire and outfit new staffers with the necessary tools to fight the good fight. Your early support will enable us to marshal the resources necessary to come out swinging on Labor Day, when mainernews.com goes live.
Need more inducement to sign up now? All subscribers who register by May 31 will be entered in a contest to win Maine music, art and books, as well as gift certificates from our advertisers. The Grand Prize is a weekend for two at a rustic cabin in the foothills of western Maine. The winners and I will enjoy some memorable summertime adventures: swimming and sailing on a beautiful Maine lake, visiting a secret waterfall. We’ll drink from a pristine spring, then tour an organic marijuana grove. After a delicious, locally sourced feast, we’ll light a bonfire and sip some Maine beers. Maybe even break out the brown liquor and smoke a joint or two. Visit mainernews.com for contest details and to SUBSCRIBE.
With your help, Mainer will grow and flourish for generations to come, continuing to bring down the bad guys and keeping the good times rolling. Best of all, you’ll feel great being part of the community that supports worker-owned journalism and makes our beloved state even better. Thanks for being a Mainer!