The Universal Notebook: Hobnobbing with hall of famers

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The other day I saw that the Maine Press Association Hall of Fame is inducting three more journalists. Most of the members of the MPA hall are editors, owners, or publishers. A few are columnists. Very few are reporters.

Looking at the online list of hall of fame luminaries, I was surprised how many I had worked with or for.

Edgar Allen BeemBob Moorehead (inducted in 2007) was fresh out of ‘Bama and still crazy about Joe Namath when he took over as editor of the Westbrook American, where I got my start in 1965 as a high school correspondent. I credit (or blame) Bob for getting me started smoking, drinking coffee, and typing, which is what a reporter did in those days.

I also worked with family friend and beloved Portland sports reporter Dick Doyle (2004), who hired me as a high school kid to cover Westbrook games that Press Herald reporters couldn’t get to. These were the days before the internet, so I had to deliver my game reports by hand to a Guy Gannett newsroom full of boozy, cigar-chomping sportswriters.

Harry Foote (1999) had been the city editor at the Portland newspapers before he purchased the Westbrook American. I remember Foote as an old-fashioned, no-nonsense eye-shade-and-arm-garter editor.

In 1978, while I was working at Portland Public Library and writing for the short-lived alternative weekly Portland Independent, Don Hansen (2013), then editorial page director of the Portland papers, contacted me to write a weekly column called “On the Other Hand” for the Portland Evening Express.

My illustrated Portland Independent column Moto & Guzzi caught the attention of Maine Times co-founder Peter Cox (2000) because I often ribbed his fellow co-founder John Cole (also 2000). 

In 1980, Peter Cox invited me to join the staff of Maine Times as cultural reporter and art critic, positions I held until 1995 when I went freelance.

Maine Times never won MPA awards because Peter regarded the MPA as an old boys club which, if you belonged, would sooner or later give you an award. So I was surprised when he accepted MPA hall membership.

As Groucho used to say, “I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as a member.”

Marian McCue (2019), who transformed The Forecaster from a suburban bulletin board to a serious weekly newspaper, let me take over John Cole’s column after he died in 2003. When Marian resurrected the Portland Phoenix, I took this column to these pages. She is one of 13 women among the 75 members of the MPA hall.

Very few working writers have been inducted into the hall of fame. Bill Nemitz (2015) is about it.

Among those ink-stained wretches still in harness, I would nominate Portland newspaper reporter and author Colin Woodard; Portland Phoenix columnist Al Diamon, who has elevated political commentary in Maine to an acerbic art form; Mainer editor Chris Busby, who regularly scoops the Portland papers; and my old Maine Times colleague Scott Allen, now head of the Boston Globe’s investigative Spotlight Team.

Posthumously, two of Maine’s most important environmental reporters belong in the MPA hall.

Bob Cummings’ reporting on public lots for the Portland papers resulted in thousands of acres of forest land being returned to the public domain.

And Phyllis Austin covered forest issues for Maine Times better than anyone before or since. Phyllis, who won several national fellowships, is the MPA hall’s most glaring omission. Please rectify this.

Edgar Allen Beem has been writing The Universal Notebook weekly since 2003, first for The Forecaster and now for the Phoenix. He also writes the Art Seen feature.