Why This Veteran TV Leader Is Trying To Buy A Newspaper
So, this is what retirement looks like:
If all goes well, I hope to be playing a role in the near-term purchase of Masthead Maine, the parent company of the Portland Press Herald along with four other daily newspapers and a number of weekly publications. Our small but mighty Maine Journalism Foundation Board, of which I am one of three founding members, hopes to run these papers as a not-for-profit operation benefiting the people of Maine. Why on earth would we want to do this and how the heck did I get involved? Let me explain.
Sometime during my grammar school years, I wrote a brief op-ed in my local paper lamenting the sorry state of our local roads. If I recall correctly, potholes were my frustration and focus. I do not remember exactly what motivated me to write this piece, but I have never forgotten the ripple of impact that small, two-paragraph essay had on my sense of community and place.
Fast forward to my somewhat recent retirement and move to my new home state of Maine. It might seem strange for a person so invested in a four-decade career in television to be jumping into the deep end of “traditional journalism,” but I have always felt strongly that, in order to thrive, every community needs a solid, independent local news ecosystem. Obviously, there are many interlocking elements that define community: good schools, safe drinking water, fresh air, responsive government, infrastructure and, of course, the ebb and flow of information without fear or favor that allows everyone in the community to share a common set of facts from which decisions and actions follow.
As we grapple with a rising tide of misinformation, fake news and the specter of AI-generated stories, we need to wrestle with what it means to live next to and with one another, choosing, I hope, civility over rancor. We need trusted sources of information to help stem the erosion of civic engagement and discourse. We must recognize that the inner workings of local government, law enforcement, business and the like could upend all of our lives if we fail to pay attention and hold the powerful accountable.
While television and radio news here in Maine and across the country do their part, they, too, rely on digital and print journalism to push and prod them into uncovering corruption, while celebrating community and providing that common understanding of what it means to live and work together. We crave connection and civility even if the news, of late, seems lacking on both fronts. And while it might sound alarmist, our very democracy depends on our shared understanding of the world we inhabit and that understanding must start in the local communities in which we live.
I am well aware of the challenges of raising money and support, but I also know a successful effort in a place like Maine could be replicated and repeated to the benefit of many. In fact, there are numerous examples of already thriving nonprofit news operations all over the U.S. in places as large as Chicago and Philadelphia and as small as tiny Harpswell, Maine.
Thankfully, there are myriad foundations and individuals all thinking the same thing, so I remain optimistic and hopeful that our efforts will succeed. I hope you do, too.
Emily Barr is the former president and CEO of Graham Media Group.