Wendy Derzawiec, editor, 1988-1997; writer since the start;
webmaster since 1997
Early in January 1988, my husband saw on the CETV bulletin board that someone was starting a newspaper in Cape Elizabeth. I had a journalism degree and some experience on community (weekly) newspapers, but I also had small children and didn’t want to work full time. I had written some Cape Elizabeth features for the American Journal in Westbrook.
I called the number that was on TV. It was the start of nine years for me as editor of The Cape Courier, which is celebrating Volume 25 with this issue.
When I came on board, Ellen Van Fleet and Jan Soland had already done a lot of work getting The Courier together. There was a plan to have volunteer contacts in neighborhoods to gather news. There also was a plan to have three volunteers rotate as editor, but we found it hard to keep continuity. We met weekly or so to figure out what other sources we would use for news and how everything would be coordinated.
I remember they weren’t very happy with us at Town Hall because so many different people from The Courier were calling for the same information. Town Hall is, of course, the most important news source. At first, I attended town meetings but soon came to rely on broadcasts from CETV. And that’s something reporters from out-of-town newspapers can’t take advantage of.
If I could add a catch-line to The Courier, I would choose, “We live here.” I think that guides the content. News articles are objective, fair and balanced, but there’s also a certain love because this is our home.
That made reporting pretty difficult sometimes; for instance when there was a big roof problem at the middle school in 1990 and the subsequent resignation of the superintendent.
Sometimes it’s hard to write about your neighbors. But it’s rewarding too.When Hurricane Bob left so many without power or water, folks came through a trying time with grace and dignity.
Early on, an editorial decision was made not to have editorials. Our first issue had two obituaries, but we never ran them again – we just couldn’t keep up with them.
Something that evolved while I was editor was the way we presented information on candidates for local office. At first, I called all candidates and asked them questions about themselves and their views. But some complained that they were unprepared for the call, so then I tried mailing a list of questions that I’d be asking in the call. Many candidates still thought they were unfairly represented, so after that, I mailed the questions and asked for responses in writing, with word limits. This seemed to work.
I think an early story that stands out most to me was a Town Council decision to refuse a beer license for a pizza place. One councilor did not think an establishment so close to the schools should be serving beer. Now there’s a pizza house that serves beer, and another place in town that has a full liquor license. Times have changed!
Sewers were a hot item in the 1980s, but most of that was resolved by the time The Courier made the scene. Subdivision development was hot in the ’80s – I think the Highlands at Broad Cove was one of the first that I wrote about.
In 1996, Ellen and I accepted, on behalf of The Courier, the Gould Award for Citizenship from the town. That was quite an honor. But I think the greatest pride I ever felt about The Courier was a year or so after we started. The message marquee in front of the police station announced spring cleanup week, and for the first time added: “For details, see The Cape Courier.” It was then I felt we were making a difference.
The most fun thing about having been involved for so long is the countless number of people I’ve met and worked with. My kids say that I seem to know everybody. It does seem that way, and more often than not, I can trace the acquaintance back to the paper.
Technology has changed The Courier. Fewer people are needed to produce it, although I am truly impressed with the caliber and professionalism of those who are doing the paper now.
I am so happy to see The Courier has survived the technological changes as well as competition from out-of-town weeklies. My favorite new feature is “Where in the World is The Cape Courier?” I’m pleased that folks think enough of the paper to take it with them on their travels. It’s like being part of their family.
Debbie Butterworth, police log reporter/feature writer since Issue No. 1, 10-plus-year board member
I’ve always loved newspapers, and reading one has been a daily routine since I was about 12. So when Ellen Van Fleet and Jan Soland explained the new town newspaper to me, I was interested in being part of it, and have been doing it since the first issue.
I was a stay-at-home mom with four little boys, one a newborn, and figured this was one activity I could be involved with and work around the busy family schedule.
They asked me to do the police log, and to be a feature reporter.
Generating the police log for The Courier was a labor-intensive task back in 1988 – no electronic communication at all. With my newborn in tow, I went to the police station twice a month, and now-retired head dispatcher Mike Walsh would hand me a large black log book, into which every complaint, summons, arrest, accident, fire and rescue call was painstakingly handwritten.
I’d copy the information down on a pad of paper, bring it home and type it into my computer, print it out with my cutting-edge dot-matrix printer, and hand deliver the document to Ellen’s house. She would edit it, and give it to a typist, who then retyped it onto a floppy disc. The whole process took hours, if not days.
Technology has advanced. Today I receive all the police entries via email, type and cut/paste into a police log template, and email it to Patty McCarthy. Now, the whole process takes perhaps an hour.
In the old days, while at the station, I’d chat with the chief, the late David Pickering. He’d always have interesting topics he wanted for public knowledge, so we created another column, called “From the Chief’s Desk.”
As I look back at old police log files, I see that not much has changed in our town, with similar entries both then and now. Vandalized mailboxes, dogs running loose, stolen bicycles, burglaries, lost and found property, a few missing persons (usually found), car accidents, speeding violations, and barking dogs.
As the police reporter, I had the opportunity to participate in some interesting police details, such as riding along with an officer for his night patrol (during which he arrested a drunk driver and investigated a home burglary) and observing several sobriety roadblocks set up to catch drivers operating under the influence. For me, this was like seeing “CSI” come to life, right in my little town!
As a feature writer, I met so many interesting people, all with fascinating stories to tell. I loved the opportunity to learn more about our neighbors, and to share their stories. Memorable interviews include Kenyan runners (after being able to ride the Beach to Beacon press truck), resident Henry Adams when he was cast as a “typical Mainer” for a nationally televised Super Bowl ad, a resident who collected lighthouses, the director of Nickelodeon Broadcasting when they came to town to film an animated cartoon in Diane Brakeley’s kitchen, and the crew of Good Morning America when they visited Portland Head Light!
Then there were the routine stories that make our town so special, really the stories of an ordinary day in the life of a small town – Cub Scout Pinewood Derbies, bike rodeos, neighborhood holiday parties and hayrides, plays and music performances put on by students, Little League games, stories behind beautiful gardens, Girl Scout Father-Daughter dances, playground fundraising activities, kids who have participated in chess tournaments, spelling bees, sporting events ... all contributions to what makes this town a place we are all proud to call home.
And then we have the annual April Fool’s article that I’ve been writing for at least 10 or 15 years. The most difficult part is coming up with a topic. The self-imposed criteria is always the same. It has to be something that will impact and inconvenience a majority of town residents, while not making people really angry. I also stay away from sensitive topics, such as budgets, schools (I’m a teacher at Pond Cove) and politics. And the editor makes sure we steer clear of libelous topics.
My husband Frank and I start tossing around topics right about this time of the year. When we hit on a topic, we talk about it as though it is real, and by the time I start writing, I have convinced myself it is real and the story sort of writes itself. Some parts are easy ... I don’t have to get actual quotes from respondents, so I can make them up to fit the story! I enjoy feedback from readers, especially when they tell me that they fell for it. Some of my favorites include having a carnival rides and beer tent at Family Fun Day, building a 90-bed prison at the new police station, building a tacky diner for truckers next to Town Hall, making Shore Road one way and building a wind farm on Spurwink Road.
The Cape Courier is a treasure for our wonderful town. Designed to be a conduit for information about what was happening in Cape Elizabeth, it has become the single most important common bond that keeps us connected to each other in this town that we all love.
Wendy Keeler, community editor
and school editor since 2004
A friend once told me that to her, reading The Courier is like going to an old-time coffee shop where people trade news about fellow residents and goings-on around town. When you walk out the door, you have a stronger sense of community than when you sat down at the table.
Call me corny, but I love sharing news about Cape Elizabeth people with other Capers. When I learn about someone getting engaged or someone’s kid making the dean’s list, about a couple celebrating 40 years of marriage, about a Cape person of any age working hard at something and finding success, or about people volunteering time to help people in need, conserve land and preserve landmarks, or make the schools and community stronger, I feel excited to have a place to share it.
Day after day, I’m in awe of the tireless, incredibly generous efforts of people like Ellen Van Fleet, Wendy Derzawiec, Bob Dodd, Sheila Zimmerman, Anita Samuelsen, Jeff Hewett, Suzanne Higgins, Debbie Butterworth, Diane Brakeley, Elizabeth Brogan, and more. All of them make this possible.
Diane Brakeley, paste-up volunteer
from Day 1, proofreader, writer, longtime ad manager, photo toner
When I moved here 25 years ago, I had the incredibly great fortune to move in directly across the street from Ellen Van Fleet. We had a lot in common, including sons who were computer geeks.
When we were hanging out one day, Ellen casually mentioned she was planning to start a town newspaper. She felt it would contribute to the feeling of community in Cape Elizabeth.
I remember saying, “That’s a great idea,” while quietly thinking, “Are you nuts?” My father had worked for newspapers (including the French newspaper “Le Messager” in Lewiston), and it was hard work! There was so much to it. How could one person start a newspaper?
Never underestimate Ellen Van Fleet! I was soon pasting up copy in a spare room on the second floor of Jan Soland’s house. Ellen had lots of friends, good ideas, and a way of making do with what she had. I have worked on and off as paste-up person, proofreader, School Board reporter, ad manager and photo toner. The newspaper’s home moved from Jan’s house to the “Girl Scout building” at Fort Williams and is now in the basement of Town Hall. It has gone from hand paste-up to completely digital.
And with all those changes over 25 years, it remains exactly what Ellen set out to create – a wonderful place to find community news and information.
Happy Anniversary to The Cape Courier.
Elizabeth Brogan, writer, 2002; community editor, 2003; editor, 2004-11; board member since fall 2011
Not quite “the olden days,” but looking back over a mere 10 years, so much has changed at The Cape Courier.
When I first joined The Courier as a volunteer reporter, it was 2002. I had responded to a small ad in the newspaper seeking a writer. No experience needed. Good thing, too, as my writing experience over the previous 15 years was pretty much limited to research memos and legal briefs.
Everyone at The Cape Courier learned as they went along, and the low-tech process of putting the paper together was extremely volunteer-friendly.
When I became community editor in 2003, and then editor in 2004, my duties included delivery of an enormous laptop computer to a designated drop-off point, sometimes the police station, sometimes the tax desk at Town Hall, so that a volunteer typist could input handwritten or typed submissions.
E-mail was used to move the newspaper-in-progress back and forth between the editor and community editor.
Advertisements and copy were pasted onto double-sized sheets of paper by volunteers during a process known as “paste-up.” Those sheets were then gently packed in a large, flat box, which at lunchtime of “production day” was collected by longtime distribution volunteer Jeff Hewett to be delivered to The Times Record in Brunswick, where he works and the paper is printed.
Over the years, we moved from an early version of Pagemaker, to a newer version, and finally to InDesign. The typists were no longer needed, as submissions were increasingly emailed. A server system replaced the emailing of the pages back and forth between editors (and with it the up-to-20-minute wait for the newspaper to arrive in a waiting editor’s in-box).
Gone was the paste-up process (and with it the occasional loss of small ads that had “fallen off” the sheet en route to The Times Record).
Of course, some things have not changed at all. Volunteers – writers, photographers, proofreaders and subscribers – are still the cornerstone of The Cape Courier.
A small orange road construction-style sign still hangs in a basement window at Town Hall, where The Cape Courier rents office space. “Women at Work,” the sign reads, with the handwritten note added, “and Bob,” a tribute to Bob Dodd, former editor and current board member and Town Council reporter.
I had often imagined, before answering that ad for a volunteer writer, that work at a small town newspaper would be a dream job, one filled with community spirit, comaraderie and principled reporting. It was. It is.
production manager since 1989
One day 23 years ago I started at The Courier and clearly remember cutting out and pasting little parts of ads and articles onto larger grid sheets. The volunteer coordinator at the time was a good friend and convinced me, because I was new to Cape Elizabeth, that I should give the newspaper a try. I’m still here.
While most people enjoy The Courier for the articles, the pictures and the ads, I have had the pleasure all this time of focusing on two things – grammar and content mistakes. I look at the paper in terms of commas (take out, leave in, add one), capitalization (the bane of my Courier existence), spelling (despite spell check, many trips to the dictionary), and sentence structure (Can’t we tweak it just a little?).
I have very fond memories of the old days at The Courier in the basement of what was the Girl Scout building at Fort Williams. I remember Tom Summers, always informative and always the patient proofer in the midst of all the women at the paper. I remember the many times Ellen Van Fleet and I left the office in the dark and had to open and close the creaky gates at the entrance to the Fort. A special memory was Wendy Derzawiec handing off her finished copy to me (ready to be proofed) on Sunday mornings at St. Bart’s.
I have seen countless changes in my years at The Courier. Everything is done on a computer, including electronic transmission, so no more leaky waxers, confusing round wheels for picture-sizing, or the oversized flat box used to send the finished copy of the paper to the printer.
All that has changed, but one thing hasn’t; there are still many people who work very hard and care very much about putting out a great small-town newspaper – and none more so than the current and faithful proofreaders Suzanne Higgins, Anita Samuelsen and Phyllis Locke, who still have a good time discussing those commas.