After leaving daily newspapers, where do journalists go?
Kevin Wack, who had spent four and a half years at the Portland Press Herald, left the paper this summer, but is doing what he might have done had he stayed — covering the Senate race between incumbent Republican Susan Collins and Democratic US Representative Tom Allen. The difference is that he’s covering it online, for his own blog, TheMaineRace.com.
Even in its first couple weeks, Wack’s blog is earning its stripes, uncovering the fact that a pro-Collins TV ad was paid for entirely by the pharmaceutical industry’s lobbying group. That and his other findings are attracting attention — including responses from commenters on TurnMaineBlue.com and AsMaineGoes.com. Unfortunately, Wack took a long weekend off to travel out of town, and missed the first Collins-Allen debate (so there’s a bit of a delay for his insights on that, but we’ll look forward to more timely comments on the remaining nine).
Of his departure from the PPH, Wack says he could see the writing on the wall: fewer reporters was going to mean less time to do projects and investigations. Since those were his primary interests, “It was a good time to leave,” he says.
Armed with a few weeks’ pay and some solid time on his hands, he entered the blogosphere as a way to build his “online resume.”
Turning his political reporting into blogging was a natural choice. But many of the political blogs he read were “identifiably partisan,” and some offer not much more than a “link and snarky comment” treatment of important topics.
“I wanted to do something that was non-partisan and had original reporting,” Wack says. He hopes his blog will combine “the best of traditional journalism” — which he describes as the on-the-ground reporting effort, or “actual-fact-gathering” — with more “voice” than is customary in daily newspapers.
He might be regretting his choice of coverage, though — while Allen is closing what was a 20-percentage-point gap in the polls, the Senate race “looked like it might be a little closer than it is right now.”
After Election Day, he’ll head to DC to start a nine-month paid fellowship with the American Political Science Association. He will study how Congress “works,” and ultimately will spend several months working as a staffer on Capitol Hill, assisting either a member of Congress or a congressional committee. He expects that will give him additional insight into the machinations of the federal government, which will in turn — he hopes — allow him to better explain those processes to his audience at a future media job.
Wack swears he’s not following the journalism-into-government track that has been well paved in Maine by former journalists who became spokesmen and -women for some of Maine’s leading politicians (David Farmer and Crystal Canney for Governor John Baldacci, Kevin Kelley for Susan Collins, and Dennis Bailey for Angus King, among others).
But after he’s done with the fellowship, he’ll be back on the job hunt. “I’m fairly pessimistic about going back to work for a daily newspaper,” he says, noting that both the economy at large and the daily-newspaper industry in specific are struggling mightily. But with new connections in Washington, he’s optimistic about finding a job with an online media outlet, or possibly a journalism-like job with a think tank or research foundation.
“I hope that I am able to stay in journalism,” he says. He sounds as if he means it, and if the choices of AJ Higgins and Josie Huang (who left their papers and joined the Maine Public Broadcasting Network) are any indication, he may just get that chance.
Jeff Inglis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.