Judy Meyer already had her hands full as a stay-at-home mom caring for two children when she decided to answer an ad for a freelance writer at the Sun Journal, Lewiston’s daily newspaper.
She got paid $35 to cover Buckfield Community Day, and she was hooked. Nearly three decades later, she’s worked her way up to be executive editor of the Sun Journal, Kennebec Journal, Morning Sentinel and several weekly newspapers in western Maine.
“We have an opportunity every day to make a difference,” said Meyer, 57. “As human beings, that’s important.”
Meyer grew up on Long Island, New York, and attended George Washington University. After getting married, she and her husband moved to Rhode Island until he got a job in Maine.
A city girl, Meyer wasn’t sure she wanted to stay at first. But before she knew it, five years had passed. Now they have lived here for 33 years, and Meyer has one of the most influential journalism jobs in the state.
While working as bureau chief in the Sun Journal’s Norway office in the late 1990s, Meyer had an experience that shaped her as a journalist. A 27-year-old papermill worker had died on the job. A few weeks later, she called the state’s Medical Examiner’s Office to find out the cause and manner of death.
After her story ran in the paper, the worker’s mother called Meyer to find out how she had gotten the information.
“They wouldn’t give it to her because they told her it was confidential,” Meyer said.
It was then that she realized the importance of the state’s Freedom of Access Act, which makes public records available to all Mainers, not just journalists.
“That office thought the public did not include Mom,” she said. “As a mother myself, I was horrified. Everyone should have access. It was an awakening for me.”
Just last year, the Sun Journal was awarded a Publick Occurrences Award for Outstanding Journalism by the New England Newspaper & Press Association for a series of stories about an Androscoggin County inmate who was subjected to horrific conditions while being transported by a private company. After the Sun Journal stories, most counties in Maine stopped using the service.
Meyer called it in a Sun Journal story “a lasting and positive move to protect prisoners’ rights that would not have happened but for our reporting.”
Meyer said the changes to journalism during the course of her career are largely tied to the Internet, which has been good and bad. It’s good because reporters can access information and research much more easily, and bad because there’s now a lot of unreliable information floating around. Journalists must combat the false information at every turn — calling it out whether they are at work or home, she said.
“That’s our job. We have an absolute duty to do that,” she said. “We speak up. We have to.”
Just recently, Meyer found out that her job as executive editor had been expanded to include overseeing the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel as part of a reorganization by MaineToday Media. She said she’s excited about the opportunity, but that it’s too early to talk about what her leadership will mean for the newspapers in Augusta and Waterville.
Throughout her career, Meyer said she’s relished the opportunity to tell other people’s stories.
“I can’t think of anything else I’d rather be doing,” she said.
In a nutshell …
POSITION: Executive Editor – Sun Journal, Western Maine Weeklies of Sun Media Group, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel
YEARS AT CURRENT PUBLICATION: 22 at Sun Media properties; KJ and MS positions were added this May
YEARS AS A JOURNALIST: 27
FAVORITE SOURCES FOR LOCAL NEWS: I read or scan all of Maine’s daily newspapers either in print or online, and read all of the Sun Media Group’s weekly publications as they are plunked on my desk.
FAVORITE SOURCES FOR NATIONAL NEWS: After scanning the wire all day, I’m pretty well briefed on national news from syndicates throughout the work day. But, I will click on NBC News in the morning while scanning local TV and newspaper websites before work.
ADVICE FOR BEING A SMART NEWS CONSUMER: Consume multiple, independent sources with named attribution and visible records in support of the reporting. Want credibility? Look for facts, not assertions. And always look for transparency – of the media outlet and its sources. It’s a lot of work, but consumers have more choices than ever today and many of those choices are intended to deceive. So, being a smart news consumer means questioning everything.