West End News May Close Or Be Sold
By Al Diamon
The end of the WEN? Ed King, the editor/publisher/delivery guy/janitor of the West End News, is moving to Russia in late October. King said that if he hasn’t found a buyer for the Portland neighborhood newspaper by then, he’ll shut it down, ending a dozen years of quirky coverage.
The WEN started in 2001, reporting on doings in the trendy West End of the city’s peninsula. King said he decided to put out the paper because “I simply wasn’t able to get a job.” He filled the pages with scoops from City Hall, crime reporting, profiles of his neighbors, bits of gossip in the “Dumpster” column, and his distinctive cartoons featuring inane comments he overheard on the streets.
For much of its existence, the News, which circulated 5,000 copies of each issue, came out every other week, but about two years ago, the frequency declined to monthly. King said that was partly due to the poor economy and partly because of “depleted energy resources on my part. I just don’t have the energy to meet deadlines, anymore.”
In addition, the news business in Portland has changed dramatically during the paper’s lifetime. “I used to get a scoop and put it in the paper two weeks later,” he said. “Now, it’s on Facebook five minutes after it happens.”
As for why he’s emigrating, he joked, “People have been telling me for 40 years, if you don’t like this country, why don’t you move to Russia. I’m finally taking their advice.”
In reality, his move was precipitated by his partner getting a job teaching English in Volgograd, an industrial city in the country’s south.
King said he’s had informal chats with several parties about buying the paper, but has no serious prospects at this point. While he’d like to get $15,000 to $20,000 for the WEN, he recognizes that the paper reflects his personality, which means much of its value vanishes when he heads east.
“I’ve made it a personal thing,” he said. “It’s kind of me.”
Another rat hole: The Portland Press Herald’s reporting on the closing and reopening of the Porthole restaurant on Portland’s waterfront has drawn the ire of pseudonymous media critic Thomas Cushing Munjoy.
The Porthole and two associated businesses were shut down by city health inspectors last week, after they failed an inspection that found a rat infestation, cleanliness issues and plumbing problems. They reopened a couple of days later after Portland officials said the violations had been corrected. The Press Herald reported that the Porthole had been cited by the city several times in previous years, but no follow-up inspections were done to see if problems were corrected.
That raised what Munjoy considers an obvious issue that the newspaper has so far ignored.
“The question that will go unasked/unanswered well through Hillary Clinton’s second term (she after Michelle),” Munjoy wrote in an e-mail, “is how many Porthole-like situations exist in a city in which you can’t swing an out-of-work reporter without hitting a restaurant.”
He also seems to think the Press Herald was naïve in accepting City Hall’s claim that its inspector performed a thorough going-over of every eatery in Portland every other year.
As he put it, “An inspection every two years, my ass.”
Lots of room for follow-up. So where is it?
From the Lost Journalists file: Blogger George Smith is reporting that the Maine Forest Products Council, an industry trade group, has hired Roberta Scruggs as its new communications director.
Scruggs, once the state’s best environmental and outdoors reporter, used to work for the Portland Press Herald, Lewiston Sun Journal and Down East, but had trouble finding outlets willing to publish her exhaustive and revealing accounts of the complexities behind the news. As Smith notes, she’s spent the past eight years working for an environmental group in Bridgton.
Now, she’ll be the mouthpiece for the paper industry.
They don’t call it irregular for nothing: The Sept. 19 edition of the Original Irregular, a weekly newspaper published in Kingfield, has page one printed on its last page, making it appear the paper should be read backwards. There’s no explanation for this switch, leaving readers to wonder if it’s a screw-up or a misguided attempt to commemorate Rosh Hashanah.
Al Diamon can be emailed at email@example.com.