In times of chaos and uncertainty, the need to understand the truth is critically important. Too often, however, finding the truth requires dodging endless political spin, conspiracy theories and angry soundbites.
It’s become hard work to follow the news. But for many of us, news and information is the lifeline to hope and a return to normalcy.
Finding news you can trust is even more difficult when you factor in the contraction of the American journalism industry. From 2008 through last year, employment at U.S. newspapers dropped by 51 percent. Since March, another 36,000 news company employees have been fired, laid off or furloughed.
Impactful, but time-consuming investigative and enterprise projects are often the first type of stories to be cut from cost-conscious newsrooms.
We are here to buck that trend.
Today, we are excited to introduce The Maine Monitor — an independent, investigative, local journalism website and newsletter produced by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting (MCPIR).
The Maine Monitor is the next step in the evolution of MCPIR — a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization founded 10 years ago by veteran Maine journalists John Christie and Naomi Schalit.
In 2012, the MCPIR founders adopted Pine Tree Watchdog as the organization’s public-facing editorial brand. In the summer of 2017, we ditched the ‘dog’ and adopted Pine Tree Watch as our primary brand.
While Pine Tree Watch holds a soft spot in our hearts, it’s also been holding us back.
As a nonprofit, we exist on the backs of individual donors and through the generosity of national journalism foundations. Unfortunately, those national funding organizations had difficulties connecting Pine Tree Watch to Maine. When applying for grants, we were often mistaken for an environmental publication.
Even here in Maine, people are challenged by the name. We are often confused with Pine Tree Waste, Pine Tree Seafood and Pine Tree Legal — names not generally associated with local news and information.
As a staff and a board, we discussed dozens of different names over the past several months. We polled our audience, we listened to a highly engaged focus group and we studied other news brands. We even strongly considered keeping Pine Tree Watch as our primary name when our audience numbers doubled in March and again in April.
Ultimately, however, The Maine Monitor sounds like a news brand. And, we like that.
So, we decided to make the change and invest in our staff and our investigative coverage of key issues impacting Maine.
While Maine has benefited from local newspaper ownership, the job losses in our state have mirrored national numbers. Since 2000, only paper mills, semiconductor manufacturers and wood-product makers shed jobs at a faster rate than Maine newspapers.
Six in 10 Maine newspaper publishing jobs have been lost since 2000. While it’s easy to fixate on the human toll of a job loss, it’s also important to consider the stories that go untold as a result.
To tell those stories, we have added three full-time reporters and a managing editor in the last year. Those journalists are backed by a crew of talented contributors.
We also have been producing a daily coronavirus newsletter for 21 weeks now, and it includes nearly every important morsel of information related to the pandemic produced by Maine media outlets. (You can subscribe here.)
In addition to the name change, we’re happy to introduce a revised mission statement that better describes the type of civic journalism our growing staff aims to produce.
Our Mission: To deliver fearless, independent, citizen-supported nonpartisan journalism that informs Mainers about the issues impacting our state and inspires them to take action. Through investigative and in-depth stories, we engage readers to participate and connect to create a better Maine.
A better Maine. We like that, too.
No political spin, no deep fakes, no conspiracy theories. Just factual local journalism.
While our editorial brand is changing, our nonprofit status has not. We are still the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting — our legal 501(c)(3) name. We remain committed to providing our content for free. Our site won’t feature a paywall and will remain ad-free.
And, we remain fiercely committed to producing independent journalism that holds truth to power through dogged Maine-based reporting. With additional resources, we plan to expand the type of work that we’ve been producing at Pine Tree Watch for the past several years.
So, what can you expect from The Maine Monitor? Transparency — and a love of Maine.
Maine matters to us — just like facts matter. It’s important to build trust with readers during a time when news and information is on constant attack and under heavy scrutiny.
The Maine Monitor is part of the civic news movement, a groundswell of independent, nonprofit — mostly digital — publishers that are focused on sustaining essential local journalism during a time when traditional newspapers are closing and contracting.
We aim to produce in-depth reporting and analysis on issues that will improve local decision-making. We want you to find value in our reporting and information you can trust.
The Maine Monitor will be published every other Sunday through the rest of 2020. While we plan to expand our publishing schedule early next year, we are not a daily news organization and have no immediate plans to compete with Maine’s newspapers and TV newsrooms for daily stories.
With a staff of five and close to 20 contributors, we promise to produce compelling bi-weekly issues that take you inside Maine’s most important stories and introduce you to Maine’s most interesting people. Our content will lean heavily on data, video and multimedia.
So, who produces The Maine Monitor?
As the executive director of the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, I also serve as the editor and publisher of The Maine Monitor. Meg Robbins is our managing editor and the glue that holds us together.
Samantha Hogan has been with MCPIR for a year and has been reporting on education and indigent defense in Maine. Her reporting on the Maine Commission on Indigent Legal Services has led to a year-long partnership with ProPublica.
And we have recently added two additional full-time reporters. Katie Brown is a science writer who will focus on energy and environmental issues in Maine. And Rose Lundy started last month with a focus on public health and the impact of the coronavirus on Maine.
Together with contributors like Barbara Walsh, Marina Schauffler, Jessica Ouellette, Susan Cover, Hal Madsen, Benzo Harris, Gina Schaeffer, Steve Solloway, Darren Fishell, Yoon Byun, Eric Bailey, Elizabeth Clancy, Roger McCord and Julie Boardman, we have a dedicated crew focused on ensuring that journalism survives in Maine.
In today’s first issue of the Monitor, Barbara Walsh has the first in-depth profile of Gov. Janet Mills since the pandemic hit Maine; Rose Lundy has a data-focused story on COVID-19 metrics that matter and Marina Schauffler writes about the habitat of home.
In addition to our year-long partnership with ProPublica, we have an expanding relationship with Report for America and have been members of the Institute for Nonprofit News for nearly 10 years. We are also members of the Investigative Reporters & Editors and the Maine Association of Nonprofits.
Even with a new name, we’ve been part of Maine for a decade now.
As much as I think of our work as essential, it’s important to understand the context of this moment in time. So, we want to end with a moment of appreciation.
Thank you to all of the doctors, nurses, first responders and the thousands of volunteers who have rallied together to fight COVID-19 in Maine. You define the word essential. Your work has saved lives — and we are forever grateful.
We also want to acknowledge the Last Responders, who have owned a very different part of this pandemic.
We’re proud to share this planet with all of you. Here’s to the pursuit of a vaccine, the pursuit of the truth and a stronger future for Maine and our country.
Thank you for supporting our work. We hope you enjoy The Maine Monitor.