Reporting from islands can be tricky, especially if you live there. Cover the town meeting, the school board or a property dispute and you’re sure to meet one or more of your sources the next day at the store, in church or on the ferry. Island journalism is not conducive to investigative reporting.

Nor is the kind of journalism that regularly comes our way from big-city media. The New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Washington Post and others often send reporters to rural outposts, be they in Maine (Washington County got the poverty treatment this winter; Vinalhaven and other island communities always seem to get visited in summer) or other spots that are distant from metropolitan city desks. Sometimes the resulting stories are good, adding to everyone’s understanding of small-town or rural America; too often they’re filled with cliches and uninformed observations about situations a city-based reporter can’t possibly understand.

Working Waterfront faces the problem every month. We have our own rule against mainland reporters visiting island communities and writing that “islanders are hardy folk” or somesuch. We try hard not to lump people into groups or describe them in ways they might not characterize themselves. We’ll report the news without fear, but we want to do it without putting people into broad categories. If an island-based reporter wants to characterize someone, they can try it, but of course they’ll have to live with the consequences, long after his or her mainland or big-city counterpart has boarded the ferry for home.

This month we asked Craig Idlebrook (mainland based in Ellsworth) to take a look at this aspect of the news business — not the news islanders report in their own publications like The Wind or the Island Times, but what can happen when the from-away press parachutes in, interviews the usual suspects, departs and then writes up the experience from afar. It’s almost always interesting; sometimes the story is enlightening; occasionally they get it badly wrong; and in fairness it’s also possible that the reporter gets it very right despite islanders’ best efforts. Any outcome is possible, in other words.

And as Phil Crossman, Vinalhaven wit and longtime student of this slice of the American media, told Craig when asked for his views of out-of-town reporters: “We get a lot of mileage out of them. We kind of look forward to the next one.”

That’s the sporting view of the enterprise. You’ll hear less charitable opinions as well. And once you’re used to reading about yourself in the paper (as a lot of island residents are by now) you might decide it’s all a game anyway, no harm done. As more than one politician has said over the years, “it’s not what they say about you that matters. It’s whether they spell your name right.”