By Ed King
Previous WEN Publisher & Editor Ed King shares memories from the first years for publication!
A lot of interesting, exciting, funny, strange, baffling, weird things (remember the topless march on Congress Street?!) happened in the twelve years that I was running the West End NEWS. Here are a few of them…
Marge Niblock’s Cops-and-Robbers
The first issue of the West End NEWS hit the street on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th, 2001. The front page was festooned with shamrocks, honoring the holiday, the history of the Irish community in the West End, and my own personal heritage. The front-page story, written by Barbara McGivaren, was about the newly-forming Portland Police Review Board. It was the first of many police-related stories that we would publish in the coming years.
Although I wrote many of the police stories at the beginning, Munjoy Hill’s Marge Niblock eventually became our full-time crime reporter. Of course, a publication our size could never afford a full-time crime reporter. But Marge, a retired artist from Philadelphia, loved the police beat and spent most of her waking hours churning out cops-and-robber stories – just for the fun of it!
Liz Looks at the Stars
Many of the best ideas for the West End NEWS came from our readers themselves. One Sunday morning, I was standing in front of Paul’s Food Market on Congress Street (our best distribution point) when along came future City Councilor Kevin Donoghue and his friend Liz McMahon. After Kevin introduced me to her, Liz said, “You know what that newspaper needs – a horoscope!”
“Why don’t you write one?” I challenged her. “OK, I will,” she took up the challenge, and about a week later she delivered the first “Liz Looks at the Stars” horoscope column. It wasn’t strictly a horoscope column. Sometimes it was a history lesson, or a cooking column, or even advice to the lovelorn. It was whatever Liz felt like writing about that week, cleverly disguised as a horoscope. And I didn’t learn until years later that when I dared Liz to come up with a horoscope column, she didn’t even know anything about horoscopes. But she went and bought a couple of books about horoscopes and winged it from there! (And as an added bonus – for me – Liz eventually became my full-time partner in life’s adventures and we’ve now been together for fifteen years.)
Another great idea for the paper came one night when I was sitting at the bar at Local 188, when it was located in Longfellow Square. The guy sitting next to me, who I didn’t know but who seemed to know me, said “You should have a gossip column in that paper.”
“OK,” I replied. And in the next issue “THE DUMPSTER – where we put everything we don’t know what to do with” made its debut. It was definitely the most popular feature in the paper. People were always telling me that it was the first thing they turned to in the paper and how much they loved it. Getting your name mentioned in THE DUMPSTER became a symbol of West End celebrity.
Readers Around the World
One feature in the paper that required some degree of reader participation was something we called “The West End NEWS Around the World.” My friend (and world traveler) Jack Glynn had started sending me photos of himself reading the newspaper at different locations he had visited – Iceland, London, Barcelona, to name a few.
After a while, other readers started sending us similar pictures. One woman was sitting in front of the Taj Mahal browsing the classified section. Another reader was standing in front of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris with his nose buried in the WEN. Another adventurous fan was perched on an iceberg in Antarctica catching up on local events. The idea really caught on and not a single issue over the next ten years was without a photo of a West End NEWS reader documenting their travels from every corner of the earth!
Political Feuds, too!
Most newspapers have some amount of political coverage, and we certainly had ours. My friend Steven Scharf, who was an early supporter of the paper, took an interest in city government and started writing a column called “Inside/Outside City Hall.” Steven became a fixture at Portland City Council meetings. Without me realizing it at the time, he started making some meaningful political enemies, too.
One evening, in the course of a city council meeting, a councilor stood up and declared, “The only thing the West End NEWS is good for is lining your bird cage!”
I was caught off guard by this little feud, but of course, immediately entered the fray on the side of the newspaper. The next issue featured a political cartoon ridiculing the city councilor who had defamed us (and brought great recognition to our little publication).
In the middle of the next city council meeting, the offending councilor, who had seen the cartoon mocking him, came out to where I was seated in the audience. He said to me, “I’m really sorry for what I said. The West End NEWS is also good for cleaning up after your dog.”
“Do you really want to keep this going?” I asked the Councilor politely.
“Nooooo…!” he implored. And the feud ended right there. Years later, when he had retired from politics, the councilor invited Marge and me (but not Steven) to his house for dinner and we had a good laugh about the whole affair.
Orlando DeLogu’s Featured Analysis
Aside from fighting with local politicians, The West End NEWS was very fortunate to feature the analysis of one of the most knowledgable observers of city government – former Portland Planning Board President, City Councilor, and Mayor Orlando DeLogu. Studying his column was an education for me and many other regular readers. And some of his writing even stirred the city government into action on some pressing community issues, like the removal of the damaging and dangerous abandoned railroad tracks crossing Forest Avenue.
Thanks to the Contributors!
There were so many other people and adventures that filled those dozen years: Harlan Baker, interviewing almost everybody who had a part in the making of the West End in his popular column “West End People;” Rosanne Graef keeping us updated on Neighborhood Association events; Michelle Souliere covering “Strange Maine;” Lee Bellavance and Tony Taylor writing features about nature and the environment; Ruth Riddick sending updates from New York and Washington; James Swan’s brilliant and hilarious re-writing of the Hardy Boys Mysteries (something for everybody!); Liz and my clumsy attempt at designing crossword puzzles; Doug Emerson playing (alternatively) DeliveryMan and PaperBoy as we rumbled around town spreading the good (and sometimes not-so-good) news in a variety of vehicles, from the WestEndNewsCycle to the WestEndNewsMobile.
There were challenging times, too. Putting together a paper on September 11th; the Great Recession of 2008 (which nearly put us out of business for good); all those all-nighters that preceded almost every single publication day. Whenever things were going inexplicably bad, Doug Emerson always had the right answer to the problem: “I’m sure Ethan Strimling has something to do with it!”
A lot of work, a lot of fun, so many stories and a lot of memories. Hey, it’s 4 a.m.! Somebody get me another coffee!
Ed King is former publisher of The West End News.