It was a year ago this week that I returned to the Bangor Daily News after a four-year stint in public relations. In the newsroom, journalists refer to the move to PR work as “going over to the dark side.” They’re sort of joking around, because they don’t want their colleagues to feel too bad about taking a better-paying, more stable job in the corporate world.
But it’s only partly a joke. Because the most high-minded goals of journalism — to tell truth to power, to shine light on injustice and deception, to inform the electorate, to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable — are not really aligned with the mission of corporate communications. In the world of public relations, the goal is basically to make your company or organization look good and sell more of whatever it’s marketing.
I learned a lot in my PR job and met a lot of bright, accomplished people. It’s true that the pay was better, the benefits were fabulous, and, if I had been good at it, it would have been a more secure work environment than the uncertain world of the news media. But although I did my best, I wasn’t particularly good at it. And I didn’t really enjoy the kind of writing I was doing there.
So it was with real delight that I accepted the opportunity to return to the newsroom, where I had previously worked for almost 10 years, primarily covering issues related to health care and health policy. This time around, I’m sitting on the Features desk, with a broad assignment of writing for and about the Baby Boom generation and their elders. My work is featured in this section we call “Next” because, as a generation, we’re all contemplating what comes next for us. It suits me, this new focus on issues related to aging.
As a boomer myself — just about to turn 62; thanks for asking — I get a lot of ideas from the conversations I have around the kitchen table with friends and family. We talk about our relationships with our adult children, our grandchildren, our partners, our siblings and our aging parents. We discuss our plans for retirement and the rewards of staying in the workforce. We share our dreams of travel and adventure, the opportunities to serve our communities, the pleasure of learning new skills and developing our creativity.
There’s a lot of talk about our health, too — fending off normal changes related to aging, the fearsome possibility of serious illness, the benefits of this diet or that exercise plan. We share stories of elder-targeted scams, fraud and abuse. We discuss issues of faith and spirituality, which for some assume new significance with advancing years. We talk about all kinds of stuff. It’s all interesting, pertinent and grist for the mill, along with current developments in politics, policy and culture. A lot of it forms the inspiration for my stories in the Next section.
Here’s the best part of my job: the amazing people I meet who share their lives with me and my readers. In the last year, I’ve met so many vibrant, resourceful Mainers in their 50s, 60s, 70s and older. A few jump immediately to mind. There was the group of ladies in the tiny town of Mattawamkeag putting on a free lunch each week to draw their community together. The artist in Appleton whose remarkable sculpture is on display in the ambassador’s residence in Qatar. The elderly woman in Belfast who got scammed out of her life savings, the couple in Levant who are raising their granddaughter, the retired professor in Orono who’s teaching baby boomers to make better use of their smart phones and the guy from Lincolnville who visits nursing homes with his beguiling therapy pig.
I’ve also been honored to meet and profile some iconic Mainers who’ve made lasting contributions to our culture, including energy expert Prof. Richard Hill; social reformer Lucy Poulin of the H.O.M.E. cooperative in Orland; Sen. Susan Collins, pouring coffee and talking about public policy issues over her kitchen table in Bangor; organic farming pioneer and conservationist Mort Mather and — just last week — Suzie Hockmeyer of The Forks, who with her former husband, Wayne, is widely credited with establishing whitewater rafting in Maine.
All in all, it’s been an enormously gratifying year of work and learning. Now, along with all of you, I’m looking forward to what comes Next. Mostly, I’m hoping to expand the discussion with my readers — to know more about the conversations you’re having, the issues on your mind, the problems you’re encountering and the solutions you’re finding.
What are your goals for the future and how are you getting there? How’s your garden doing this year? What new hobbies are you picking up? What’s in your way, and who’s inspiring you?
Seriously — give me a call at 207-990-8066 or drop me a note at email@example.com. I’d love to chat. And thanks for the great year — it’s been a privilege.
Read more of Meg Haskell at livingitforward.bangordailynews.com.