It's not ME, it's me...
A good journalist should never bury the lede, so let me cut to the chase: after 7.5 years on Maine news, my time here is coming to a close. My last day on the air in New England will be Tuesday, Dec. 11. I can't say where I'm going quite yet, but I have an exciting opportunity to join an investigative reporting team that will help me grow as a journalist, and tell more in-depth stories with impact. I'll have a few weeks off to enjoy the holidays with my family, then I'll be packing away the snow pants and parkas to move to a much warmer climate. I start my new job in January.
As I say my goodbyes, it's hard to put into words how much Maine means to me. But as a reporter, putting things into words is kind of my job -- so let me give it a shot.
For as long as I can remember, it was my dream to be a broadcaster. You know when adults tell kids they can be anything they set their mind to? In my mind, I always pictured myself on the news. After years of working toward that goal, I got my shot at WLBZ in Bangor. I can remember Googling "how to pronounce Bangor" before my first phone interview with the news director! I knew next to nothing about Maine at the time, and could have never predicted how much I'd fall in love with this state -- or how long I'd stay!
The plan was to work in Bangor one year, and then start looking for jobs in bigger markets. And after one year, I did find a job in a bigger market: Portland! After a few years at WCSH, a job in the Boston market (covering the state of Maine for New England Cable News) opened up. So without having to move out of Maine, I was able to move up the markets and grow my career. It wasn't the conventional path. I have watched many of my peers move from state to state, coast to coast in the same amount of time. It was never the plan to stay in Maine this long, but I feel fortunate for all I've learned and experienced here.
I can still remember how excited I was to do my very first live shot (at the Bangor state fair), and how nervous I was to cover my first big, breaking story (the disappearance of Ayla Reynolds). There would be many other big, breaking stories to follow: a rash of arsons in Lewiston that left hundreds of people homeless, a fatal hayride in Mechanic Falls, a deadly fire on Noyes Street in Portland that killed six young people (that one hit close to home, because I knew one of the victims). Telling these kinds of stories as a new, 20-something reporter forced me to grow up pretty quickly. I always tried to tell them with accuracy and compassion.
There have been countless live shots in severe weather, the most memorable being a record-breaking blizzard in February 2013 called Nemo. I didn't own snow pants at the time (big mistake) and completely lost feeling in my toes as about 30 inches of snow fell around me. The station was doing wall-to-wall, nonstop coverage and I must have done 20 live reports that day. My photographer and I completely exhausted ourselves trying to do different and creative things with each report, traveling all over Lewiston Auburn, changing locations every half hour. The conditions were miserable but I was not. I remember getting home after that long day, and thinking "that was fun!"
In this job, you report on a lot of tragedy and crime. I always tell people you get to see the very worst in people -- but also the very best. And it's those "very best" stories that have been so rewarding to tell. There was a woman in the Farmington area who saw a news report about a lack of kidney donors, and was inspired to sign up for surgery and give her own to whoever needed it. What a privilege it was to meet her -- and months later, the woman who received the kidney! It's those stories that remind you that as a journalist, your work can make a positive difference.
There's no shortage of feature stories to tell in Maine. Where else can you report on a viral baby moose one day -- and a regatta featuring giant pumpkins converted into motor boats the next? I'm sure some of you have rolled your eyes at my pun-filled reports, but I'm glad my editors have let me keep lines like "shelling out cash" at the lobster festival... or "their numbers are nuts" reporting on a surge in the squirrel population. Whether it was going out on a lobster boat, hiking Monhegan Island, getting lost on a logging road, or traveling to a tribal reservation in Washington County to go elver fishing at midnight, reporting here has been nothing short of an adventure!
Maine is where I learned to slow down and appreciate natural beauty. After several years here, I still find myself stopping and taking in the stunning views as I travel across every corner of the state. I took up paddle boarding, biked hundreds of trail miles, hiked some moderately difficult mountains, and spent a lot of time exploring the Portland foodie scene! When I wasn't working, it often felt like a vacation to live here. Someone recently told me I should be paid by the Maine Tourism Association because of how much I rave about our state!
On a personal note, I have met some of my very best friends here -- most of them, fellow reporters. No one else gets what this job is like, and all those stressful and emotional moments can develop deep friendships. When I was spending my first Christmas away from family, it was a meteorologist at a competing station who came over to my small apartment in Hampden and shared a humble Christmas dinner with me -- making me feel a little less alone. It's not easy moving far from home and starting your first job in a competitive, sometimes cut-throat industry -- and these friendships are what kept me going in those first few months. We've cheered each other on, and helped each other get through some tough times. I'm happy to say we've managed to stay in touch, and I now have friends in news markets all across the country.
As some of you know, I met my boyfriend here. He's a lifelong Mainer and loyal, longtime viewer of NEWS CENTER. He happened to be watching a STORM CENTER one morning, and noticed me reporting from a gas station parking lot in Gorham -- how glamorous! He sent me a tweet complimenting my winter hat. Little did I know that tweet would turn into many more tweets, messages, and finally meeting in January 2014. Almost five years later, we're still together. His family in Maine has become my family. And now we are planning to move together. He's been the most understanding and supportive partner I could ask for -- and I couldn't be more grateful that my decision to take a job in Maine ended up bringing us together.
You may be wondering -- if your time in Maine has been so great, why are you leaving? To me, it just feels like it's time. Personal growth and professional development is extremely important to me, and I feel like I need to experience a different part of the country and a different news market. The job I'm in right now has taught me how to generate content on extremely tight deadlines. It's a grind for sure -- but at the same time, I'm getting comfortable here. I know I need a new challenge, and I need to do something a bit different. It's a real dream to be able to join an investigative team and have TIME -- time to do research, dig into an issue, and tell a longer story. I think this new job will elevate and broaden my skills as a journalist.
So Maine, it's not you, it's me. I'm ready for something new. But I know I'll be back. This will always be home, and I'll always be grateful for all I've learned and done here. This is where my longtime dream of being a newscaster became reality. It's been nothing short of an honor to be on the air here, learning from and reporting alongside veteran journalists who are some of the best in the business. I have made my fair share of mistakes, but I have plenty of stories I'm proud of, too. I can honestly say I showed up to work every day with determination, and tried my best with every assignment. I put my heart into my work, and through relationships with viewers, I felt the love back. I'll be signing off the air next Tuesday, but I won't stop posting here or on social media. I hope you'll follow me on my next adventure -- and know how much the state and people of Maine will always mean to me. Thank you for letting this girl "from away" tell your stories.