Not deferential enough: My virtual life

Posted Wednesday, April 20, 2011 in Opinion

by Gina Hamilton

So the New Maine Times crew celebrated the launch at a few minutes before midnight last Thursday, and it was done in the same kind of harum-scarum but low-key manner we’d been doing everything else these days. A couple of people – Kelsey and Tyler – on one end of a cell phone and laptop connection got information from me, and pressed the launch sequence, so to speak, while I chatted with a couple of other staffers on Facebook and nervously watched our e-mail system disappear for a little while. An hour later, everything was done and back to normal, and the New Maine Times was born.

In the meantime, my actual, flesh-and-blood husband, Chris, sat in the room with me, our real-life dog, Rudie, curled at his feet. He was reading an actual paper-and-ink book, asking me the occasional real-life question that might or might not have been answered based on my involvement with the virtual people I was talking to in the various virtual meetings that were going on. 

And then it was done. No Champagne – though that will come later this week – no confetti thrown or ribbons cut, no first edition hot off the press to be framed through the years while it slowly mellows to the color of old tapioca. This is publishing for the modern era. It is quiet and personal. I type a few lines in an otherwise silent office, I press a button and the story changes, and not just for me. It changes for everyone.

This is the future of news reporting, I am told, and I know it to be true, but it still seems so alien, somehow. The newspaper industry’s changeling child that can correct itself on a whim, reverse direction on a dime, that knows the truth of the new reality before its long-lived, illustrious parent can hope to do so.

Before I went to bed that night – and I was exhausted after a long drive to and from Orono where I was speaking to journalism students interested in investigative reporting – I had already started working on another story for this week. 

And there’s always another story to do.  At the investigative journalism panel discussion, that’s one thing all the panelists agreed upon. There is a lot going on, and not enough in terms of resources to get to all of it.  So you do what drops in your lap, or the thing that calls your name out of the darkness, and you hope that somewhere in the state, other voices are calling other investigators.

What dropped in my lap this week was the fact that the Army Corps of Engineers plans to dredge the Kennebec River at the height of the summer tourism and clamming season, instead of doing it in the winter or late fall as is typical, in order to get the USS Spruance out of its BIW berth and deliver it on time to the Navy.

It’s estimated that it’ll damage the flats to the tune of some $400,000-$500,000, perhaps closing them for the season (or even several seasons), and it may cause serious harm to Popham Beach. All to get one boat out of the river on time, because the Navy didn’t turn in a request for it to be done earlier. And somehow, that self-same ship managed to make it out of the river for sea trials without too much trouble.

And as I was working on that story, another one, related but not quite the same, fell with a dull thud into my lap, too: that the state is trying to downgrade the Kennebec River’s water-quality listing, even though doing so won’t help the Navy dredge without a permit in the summer.

A local lawyer, Steve Hinchman, and a local shellfish official, Bob Cummings, sent me reams of virtual paper about this proposed dredging. Of the two issues, Cummings was most concerned about the water-quality downgrading. Even though it would be a difficult situation for the clammers and lobstermen this year and next, the water-quality issue opened up the possibility of many years of possible summer dredging down the road.

So there was really no rest for the wicked as we picked up the pieces and started working on Wednesday’s issue.

Even so, Friday was such a beautiful day down at Turning Tide Cottage that we took a few minutes out and cleaned off the deck and planted some violas and some blueberries that came in the mail and dragged them out to the front of the house and the deck, only to drag them back in when the overnight temperatures threatened to plunge to below freezing. We kept them inside through Saturday night’s storm, then carefully brought them back out to experience the younge sunne who has half run his course through the Ram, when the weather broke Sunday afternoon. And the smale fowle maken melodie and all that.

Spring is finally here, we think, along with all the work and joy that comes with the season. Earth Day is coming, as is Easter and Passover, and warmer temperatures are on their way. We’ve had a nice wet spring, so it’s possible that the Kennebec won’t need dredging in any case, which will make the clammers and lobstermen and those of us who enjoy the beach happy.

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