Time to go. Been at this job for 16 years, more or less, since we started The Working Waterfront in the early 1990s. All that time I’ve been the editor, but now we’ve got a new one so I get to say goodbye by writing him a letter.

We started small – the first issue was 12 pages and the type was pretty large to conceal the fact that we didn’t have sufficient stories or ads to fill the space. I wrote big house ads for the back page; I offered explanations of what we were trying to do, why Maine needed a newspaper focused on its working waterfronts. At first we focused entirely on those waterfronts while we published a second paper, “Inter-Island News,” that concentrated on islands. After a few years we combined the two papers into what you see now. Over the years we also increased the number of pages (32 this month) to accommodate a growing advertising base and a lot of writers whom we convinced to contribute to our effort. The result: an ambitious newspaper covering the entire coast and all of Maine’s island communities. Amazingly, over time, it all worked out pretty well.

So what to say on the way out the door? First, Mr. Editor, be yourself. Don’t waste time worrying about what I might think. I’m gone, after all (not dead yet, still reading the paper, but enjoying myself somewhere and not worrying about what you’re doing). It’s your paper now – go for it! Newspapers have to grow and change and adapt or they fail, and now you get to make all that happen.

Second, listen to the readers. A few of them will write letters giving you hell. Print the letters, particularly the negative ones, remembering each time that the purpose of the enterprise is communication, by which I mean a robust conversation between editor and readers. Readers can be counted on to make suggestions that are worth listening to. An editor who doesn’t pay attention to the readers is courting disaster. I didn’t say you always had to agree with them; you just have to listen.

Third, be original. Don’t waste time on the stories everyone else in the media is doing. If you go to an event and see three TV cameras and a flock of reporters, you have two choices: go home and forget it, or come up with an angle of your own. This is a monthly paper, after all, and repeating what everyone else in the news babble has already done isn’t worth the trouble.

Fourth, don’t neglect the advertisers. A few years back I came to the defense of real estate brokers who had bought space in the paper. Some islanders, including several trustees of the Island Institute (our publisher) thought real estate ads ought to be banned from our pages; I stuck up for the brokers (a) because they’re engaged in a legal business that supports folks on islands, and (b) because they pay their way, which is important when the cost of producing a newspaper keeps going up. As a liberal-thinking publisher friend of mine told me once, he’d take a big cigarette ad if it came along; free speech. Don’t ask the advertising department to define political correctness for you; sell the space and then write a nasty story about the evils of smoking if that makes you feel better.

Newspapering in its original form (ink on newsprint) it may be going extinct, but the idea behind it – providing a place for disciplined but full-throated discussion of a set of questions we might consider important – is alive and well. Pay attention to the technological changes affecting the news business by all means, but don’t despair: the basic need for information won’t go away even if it becomes necessary to change the format.

Of my hundred or so classmates at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism (class of 1969) I believe I’m the only one who actually got to invent his own newspaper. I did so with a lot of help from others at the Island Institute and elsewhere, of course, but I got to play at the center of a wonderful game that lasted a long time. Now it’s my hope, Mr. Editor, that you’ll keep the game going a lot longer – true to the rules we laid down, I hope, but reinventing itself in ways none of us can now imagine.


David Platt