Our newspaper is the Quoddy Tides – not Times

One of the factors in our decision to relocate to Eastport was the quality of the local newspaper, which appears every second and fourth Friday of the month.

Typical front pages.

There’s nothing flashy about its tabloid-format editions, but everything I see strikes me as solid, even compelling, community journalism.

The quirky – and unique – use of Tides rather than Times in its name is not just humorous but altogether appropriate. The paper reports on all of the communities the tides touch on in Washington County, Maine, as well as many in neighboring Charlotte County, New Brunswick.

One of my ongoing criticisms of American newspapers over the past half-century is that very few of them give you a feel for the place they serve. Ownership by out-of-state corporations is only part of the problem. Continuing cutbacks in coverage is another. (I play with those and other factors in my novel Hometown News.)

For most dailies and weeklies, there’s a generic look and taste in the stories. Everybody has city-council and school-board meetings, for heaven’s sake, and most car crashes are just as boring.

Somehow, though, that’s not the case with the Quoddy Tides.

Consider the lead on a report of the start of the important commercial scallop harvest, a story that was presented on Page 2 but teased from the front page by a dramatic black-and-white photo of a fishing boat plowing through rough seas:

“Winds gusting over 50 knots did not deter many Cobscook Bay area scallop fishermen from going out on the first day of the season on December 1. About three-quarters of the fleet of over 20 draggers based in Eastport and about 10 boats from Lubec headed out that day.”

Remember, it’s not just windy with choppy surf. This is December, blowing icy water. As for a feel of the place, just listen to the quotes in the next sentence:

“Lubec fisherman Milton Chute observes, ‘The tops were blowing off the water like it was pouring,’ and Earl Small of Eastport says that while it was ‘sloppy steaming back and forth,’ once the boats were on the lee shore either off Lubec or down in South Bay, it wasn’t bad towing out of the wind. ‘It’s not as dangerous as people think,’ says another Eastport fisherman, Butch Harris, noting that two or three boats will fish together in case anyone gets in trouble. ‘It was a rough ride out, but once you’re there fishing it’s not that bad.’ Harris points out that scallop fishermen have only so many days that they’re allowed to fish. ‘If you don’t go, you lose it,’ he notes.”

Much of their quotes, I’ll venture, is pure poetry. And off the cuff, at that.

The rest of the story fills out the page, detail after detail. I bet you’ll think of some of this dedicated labor, too, next time you eat seafood.

The newspaper offices occupy the 1917 Booth Fisheries headquarters downtown, once part of a sardine cannery.
The building sits right on the harbor. The post office and former customs office stands to the left.

The Tides was founded in 1968 by Winifred B. French, the wife of Dr. Rowland Barnes French, M.D., and mother of five. They moved to Maine from Arizona in 1953 so he could help found the Eastport Health Center, itself a remarkable story in community medicine.

Winifred had no background in journalism, but she saw a need, studied hard, and ventured forth in launching and editing a small-town paper with a regional outlook. In 1979, for good reason, she was named Maine Journalist of the Year. Remember, the Tides isn’t a daily or even weekly newspaper, it’s every two or sometimes three weeks.

Reporters attend public meetings rather than chasing afterward by phone, correspondents provide meat-and-potatoes servings of neighborhood interest, Don Dunbar contributes top-drawer photography, and local columnists all weigh in for what becomes must-read pages throughout the area. The mix skirts the glib boosterism and doom-and-gloom morbidity too prevalent elsewhere.

Winifred died in 1995, but son Edward French and his wife, Lora Whelan, continue on her model. (Another son, Hugh, heads the Tides Institute and Museum – note that Winifred’s sense of “tides” continues there, too.)

I like the fact that the stories don’t carry datelines. Nope, the reader doesn’t get a chance to turn off on the basis of a single word. The region is closely interlinked by people living in one place and working in another or having family elsewhere, so it’s all of interest or should be – both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border.

I also like the fact that headlines come in just two sizes, with a serif face used for a touch of variety. There’s no need to scream to draw attention. Instead, we get an orderly and fair-minded sensibility.

So that’s an introduction. I could go on and on.

In some ways, it reminds me of Annie Proulx’ novel The Shipping News, without the dreariness and grimness.

Nothing flashy or sensationalized. Fits the character of the place. 

One thing I would tweak is the nameplate, which goes back to the first edition. That shoreline still seems to strike out the paper’s name.

Still, it’s a joy to be retired and not have to be in the midst of producing all this. These days I do delight in being able to sit back and simply enjoy what I’m reading – even if I do on occasion feel an urge to “fix” something on the page.

What – or whom – do you look forward to reading the most? On a regular basis. (Apart from this humble scribe.)

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