New website, new logo — and new dog

While our last story was published about five weeks ago, the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting has not been idle, except for that humid stretch when we regretted selling the air conditioner at a yard sale and our inner watchdog laid down in front of the nearest fan.

Here’s the latest from our Hallowell HQ:

You’re looking at our new website, designed by a group call “Sleepover” based in San Francisco. The idea was to achieve a look that showed the content in a clean, ordered way; chose colors that suited our Maine locale; and added new features. It’s not finished yet — more content will be added over the coming weeks. Former newspaper colleague and “up-the-street” neighbor Ben Sturtevant will continue to be our web consultant.

The site also debuts our new logo, the watchdog in front of a pine board cutout of the the state. It was designed by Buddy Doyle of Gardiner, Me.,  who is also a photographer and writer and, mostly recently, the inventor of the kayak condo. Buddy’s a friend, too, who donated the design and didn’t even ask for this plug.

For now, we’re calling the dog Moxie S Bark, the “S” (with no period), a tribute to two feisty, no-BS characters whose independent spirit inspires us: Harry S Truman and Hunter S. Thompson.

We’ve also spent time time fine-tuning the structure of the center, recruiting new members to both our board of directors and our advisory board. Both are listed on the site. We’re indebted to both groups — there would be no Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting without them.

The board of directors sets policy, oversees the budget, helps raise funds, represents the Center in the community and, in general, will keep us on the path to long-term success. The advisory board is made up of some of the stellar names in our industry and in Maine — we’re honored they wanted to associate themselves with a startup like ours.

Among the policies we’re formalizing with the board is the wall between the board members and story selection, although we already have an informal agreement that the stories will be selected, written and edited only by the staff. That policy will apply to donors and foundations, too. Board members can suggest story ideas, and they have, as have our media partners and our readers. They all get the same review by the staff. Many of our recent stories were suggested by readers.

The Center is applying for foundation grants, and has alerady received about $30,000 in donations, almost all from Maine residents. We are working on a policy to list those donations. It’s been enough income to pay expenses such as libel and liability insurance; supplies; web design; and  copying fees for state documents.

All of this is the foundational work for what really matters to us, our board members, or donors, our media partners and our readers: hard-hitting stories about state government.

Between January and June, were wrote 14 stories, about twice what we planned to write when the Center was founded last fall. We were able to do that because it went quickly from a one-man operation to one man, one woman operation when my future wife, Naomi Schalit, joined the center in February. Then we got help from two veteran Maine writers, Marian McCue and Jeff Clark, and two recent Bowdoin graduates, Nat Herz (Naomi’s son) and Emily Guerin.

Nat’s Bowdoin connections have attracted another young journalist to our organization, Darren Fishell, who had previously published stories in the Brunswick Times Record. Darren’s working on a story — it may even be a series — on a timely political topic.

Naomi and I are also working on in-depth series. We expect the first part of my series to be available to our media partners and on this web site by the end of July and Naomi’s in August.

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