I got a big thrill last weekend when a 21-year-old who grew up in the area and was back from a year studying in Turkey told me he remembered k2Bh. I laughed because most people never got the name right…KQ2B, KB2Q, KHQB….everything but the right one. The young man had just told me he discovered in Turkey that he has an affinity for language and is looking toward a career using this talent. I figured that because he kept K2BH straight he must have such an affinity and I encouraged him.

 

As I continue reflecting on VillageSoup’s past, I realize that since our beginning in 1997 I have had a clear view of what future news organizations would be. Today, that view remains surprisingly similar. I saw, and still see, a sustainable news enterprise publishing timely news and tailored stories about community events, people, goods and services.

Since moving to Maine in 1994, I learned to sail and this VillageSoup venture has been like an extended cruise around Penobscot Bay, tacking first on one heading, jibing on another, then tacking yet again on a third heading. Sometimes with the view clearly ahead, sometimes in a dense fog visible only on a charted course.

This voyage has included my three children on occasions. My son, Derek, along with Jack Churchill and I did some crazy things to make Village Green, then Ligature.com, then clicK-To-Be-Here (k2Bh) and finally VillageSoup, a place to which everyone turned when they wanted to know at any moment what is happening in the Midcoast.

Early on, we put a live camera in the front window of my son Todd’s French & Brawn Marketplace. This camera became so controversial that CBS Evening News with Dan Rather did a piece about it. One early morning, Jack, Derek, myself and 102.5 talk show host Chris Wolf hiked up Mt. Battie, marrying images with words, insight and video as the dawn broke over Penobscot Bay. My daughter, Holly, gained a reputation for arriving at fires even before the fire department, and capturing stunning images.

The voyage has also introduced me to an amazing crew of creative professionals, some short in years and others long in years like me. We started newspapers and bought newspapers. We won national awards for our innovative approach and we were awarded an $885,000 Knight Foundation grant. We created a software platform now being used by news organizations around the country to create their own versions of our digital main street. And the voyage continues.

VillageSoup is a good example of the phrase futurist Paul Saffo coined: “Never mistake a clear view for a short distance.”

Thus far, the distance of our voyage is 14 years long and while our view of a digital main street remains clear, we are still tacking and jibing to reach it. Adding to the challenge of shaping a relevant form and format for trusted, timely and tailored news in a world filled with a cacophony of information, our voyage plunged into a three-year trough of a global economic downturn.

We thought back in 1997 that online revenue alone would support the level of professional journalism critical to democracy and community life. By 2003, we became convinced that a newspaper, with its valued display advertising, was necessary and we believe still it will continue to be.

We have not escaped the national trend of declining circulation and advertising revenue that has shrunk and shuttered newspapers. Since purchasing Courier Publications in 2008, with its four publications serving Knox and Waldo counties, we have reduced the number of publications. First, we merged The Courier Gazette and The Camden Herald into The Herald Gazette, creating one newspaper to serve Knox County, plus two towns at the northern and southern borders. We reduced its publication from three times a week to two. Some ask why we don’t just print one weekly newspaper, or why we print at all.

We believe a display product, whether delivered in a newspaper, magazine or on a digital pad, will continue to serve a range of readers and advertisers. We will continue tacking, but remain on course. That course includes creating publications that are relevant to readers who are hungry for interesting and meaningful news and stories beyond the daily answers to who, what, where questions found online. Our newest publication, TheScene, represents that purpose. A magazine, it targets an active and curious audience looking to discover the richness of life from Wiscasset to Augusta to Bar Harbor.

We will continue tacking as we sail toward that clear view on the near horizon, listening to you, our readers, for insight as we sustain professional journalism. Thank you for your subscriptions, your memberships, your advertising, and your support. Please stay on board with us for the entire crossing from the past to the future of community news. I will continue to share my thoughts in future columns about this voyage; please send me yours.