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PROJECT 364: All these years later, we’re both so different but still forging ahead

I’ve told this story before, but bear with me as, just like my life, it goes in a vastly different direction than I ever expected.

It was August of 1984 and I was playing tennis with my best friend, Jody.

I had called my mother before going out for some Chinese food. She passed along a message from Bangor Daily News sportswriter Pete Warner, to call him as soon as I could.

I had gotten to know Pete over the course of my junior and senior year in high school, not as a great varsity athlete who was interviewed after playing a great game. Instead, I met Pete when I was the public address announcer for my high school football team and got to know him as a friend who knew I was interested in journalism.

The conversation went basically like this:

“Want a part-time job here at the Bangor Daily News?” he asked.

“Boy, do I?” I replied.

I applied, I got interviewed by the late great Bud Leavitt, the Managing Sports Editor, and by the time the fall sports season started I was sitting on the BDN sports desk for 20 hours a week.

I typed up sports briefs and game reports (1/18s, they were called back then, as in one column/18-point headlines) and typesetting harness racing results and starters.

I was in Heaven.

My career in journalism had started with that phone call.

By November, I had my first byline—a girls soccer playoff game played in Milo, Maine.

Today is the 130th anniversary of the Bangor Daily News, which published its first edition on June 18, 1889.

My job as a writer is to find words to tell a story, but when it comes to the Bangor Daily News I don’t know if I could find the words to sum up what it meant to me.

In 1975, when I was just nine, I remember cutting out every story about the Boston Red Sox run to the World Series and pasting/taping them into a scrapbook I would keep forever.

I have no idea what happened to that scrapbook. I’m sure it lays at the bottom of a landfill somewhere along with all my baseball cards I had growing up.

But, I have no doubt that seeds of my wanting to become a sportswriter came in reading those stories and getting to know the names of those Bangor Daily News sportswriters.

Bill Warner. George Cushman. Owen Osborne. Bud Leavitt.

Soon, those names turned over into people I would soon get to work with—Mike Dowd. Larry Mahoney. Dave Barber. Joni Averill. Bob Haskell. And, Pete Warner.

Bill Warner, Pete’s dad, became my first direct boss as the sports editor.

I would have given my left arm to write like Mike Dowd, who along with Leigh Montville of the Boston Globe, was my first writing hero.

It was Mike’s story on the Hampden Academy-Bucksport Eastern Maine Class B championship game that cemented my wanting to become a sportswriter.

I still have that story in my box of memories.

From 1984 to 1998, the sportswriters of the Bangor Daily News became my family—even after I started my own family.

The memories of them, the games covered, the stories I got to tell are still with me today.

The lessons I learned—it’s “for all intents and purposes”, not “for all intensive purposes”—are still with me today.

I am the writer and reporter I am today because of their guidance and leadership.

I have a handful of regrets in life and one of the top three is leaving sports to try the news-side of things at the paper.

That was the first step toward a future I never expected, the one that led me to Connecticut.

Today, 130 years after it started, the Bangor Daily News remains an independently owned newspaper.

For that, for the fact it didn’t sell out to a media conglomerate that would tear apart everything it stood for, is something I admire greatly.

Don’t get me wrong.

The paper is a shell of its former self. As are all papers in the country.

It once had a daily circulation above 80,000—making it the largest daily newspaper north of Boston.

I would likely weep if I knew what the circulation numbers were today, but they were reported cut more than half by 2014.

Still, according to the online analytics firm SimilarWeb, nearly the Bangor Daily News website has 2.5 million visitors per month.

I’m there at least 30 times a month. Sometimes 31. In February, only 28.

You get my point.

It still must be doing something right.

So, to everybody who once made the Bangor Daily News what it was, and to all those who are still fighting the good fight to keep it relevant in this day and age, happy birthday, happy anniversary.

And to all those who directly helped me become the writer and former journalist I am today, thank you.

To read the complete history of the Bangor Daily News, just click here.

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