A new monthly publication started by grads from the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies aims to bring documentary-style reporting to the Portland mainstream. In the next few days, publisher Tim Greenway and his band of Salt buddies will distribute the fourth installment of The Blue Room, a magazine-style compilation of feature articles and photographic portraits of quirky locals.
Unlike other publications in this saturated news market, The Blue Room doesn’t aim to break any fresh stories (its reporters have instead written gushing articles about average days spent with the ubiquitous Tinfoil Man and the local band Loverless). Instead, The Blue Room’s unfailing love affair with the lilting beauty of the everyday is, for better or worse, its distinction.
Interesting, then, that the magazine is the side project of a group of local 20- and 30-something community weekly employees who spend their days chasing the news. The masthead of The Blue Room reads like a who’s who of Salt-grads-turned-editorial-grunts. Publisher Greenway works as a photographer at the Community Leader in Falmouth, editor Brandi Neal is also the editor of the Kennebunk Post, and public relations director and contributor Sherry Whittemore was a staff writer for the Forecaster weeklies and now works for a trade magazine in Yarmouth. Art director Andrew Rice, the only member of the staff who did not attend Salt, is also the art director at the Community Leader. Only managing editor Kyle Glover and technology advisor Ian Bannon are out of the news loop — Glover is in law school and Bannon manages a local restaurant.
In addition to producing the magazine, everyone on staff also distributes the 5000 free copies of the paper around Portland and sells ads to local businesses. Though both contributing to and selling ads for The Blue Room could endanger their day jobs, since most publishers don’t look kindly on employees who work for competitors in the same readership and advertising market, Greenway says no one at The Blue Room has run into trouble at work. At least, not while the magazine is still small and new and barely making ends meet.
Blue Room reporters and photographers certainly have a lot of energy — on top of their full time jobs, they typically hang out with Blue Room subjects for a few hours or a few days to produce a two-page documentary-style story, all without the benefit of a paycheck. Greenway himself says he thinks about the paper so much it sometimes keeps him up at night. After three months of hustling for ads, he’s saved up about $400 for future editions of the paper, not including new ad revenue, and he says this is enough to keep the publication going as planned, though he doesn’t know when he’ll be able to pay staff or freelancers. Greenway says he hasn’t felt any pressure to pay, since most of the contributors were there in his old apartment, in a room painted blue, when The Blue Room concept was born as art rather than work. Greenway believes The Blue Room floats because of this love of the project, not the love of money.
“I think that they believe in this,” he says. “It’s art every month, from the design to the words. This is how I think, so far, is the right way to do it.”