Don’t Mess with Marianne

Meant to get this up for Labor Day ferry reading, but have been too busy learning the new job… But earlier this year, the Columbia Journalism Review was soliciting ideas for a local newspaper themed special issue, and I suggested they include a piece on a resort town because the economy is different for such papers, and might offer ideas for how other papers can survive the great newspaper wipeout. Resort papes have access to tourist income and readers “from away,” for example. Could other legacy papers learn a trick or two from them? We briefly considered the Jackson Hole News & Guide, and then an editor at CJR countered with a request for one or both of the two papers on Martha’s Vineyard. Being loyal to Nantucket, I said, well, in that case, I’d prefer we focus on the Nantucket Inquirer & Mirror, the Inky Mirror still being the most poetic description of a newspaper I’ve ever heard. I’d gotten to know the paper in Marin County mostly: my father had subscribed to the broad sheet via second-class mail for most of the 80s and early 90s when he lived on a houseboat in Sausalito but still dreamed at times of Old North Wharf. A year ago May, he’d moved back to the island, so the thought did occur to me that maybe I could squeeze in a visit while completing my reporting. No budget for that, it turned out. The assignment was really intended as a sidebar to a longer feature on the Pt. Reyes Light (another favorite old paper I’d also read in Marin County as a teenager). In any case, for journalistic reasons I wish I had gotten out there because the woman who was the obvious primary source for the story, Marianne Stanton, the long time (and second generation) editor and publisher, didn’t return a single call or email—even to say why she wouldn’t participate. And so a story that was expected to mostly pay credit to her for the paper’s resilience and longevity (it’s 196 years old!), became far more of an investigation than I imagined. Very, very few were willing to speak on the record. Almost everyone claimed to know the real story I was sure to miss.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons