Creating an accurate, compelling issue of any newspaper is a big production, even with today’s technology and resources. It still takes a lot of planning, gathering of information, communication, writing, editing, proofreading, technical setup, and more.
I’ve often wondered, over the course of 2˝ years with The Cape Courier, how an all-volunteer staff managed to pull it all together for each issue back in the early days, when there were far fewer convenient tools to help construct a newspaper.
The production process has been revolutionized so much since I first started working for a daily newspaper 30 years ago that I can’t even fully recall how it used to work. I know this much, though – it sure took a lot more time and was far more tedious back then.
There were no digital images, so every photo in every newspaper was developed from film, printed and then scanned. And all content was entered by typists. No email, thus way slower communication. No cell phones. No Internet or search engines. Everything was done in person, by phone and via snail mail.
There was no such thing as the instantaneous transfer of information that we take for granted today. News releases arrived by mail, had to be delivered to or picked up by the proper person, then typed.
So many steps ... and then once the information was in hand and in the proper form, there were many more steps to lay out material on a page. Today, for instance, drawing a box around a story or photograph is simple: Select the right tool, and drag your mouse to create a rectangle. For many years at The Courier, drawing such a box required cutting four strips of “border tape” with an X-acto blade and manually positioning them into the shape of a box (then trimming) on a paste-up board.
There were no instant answers to every conceivable question – and yes, I did just have to Google to figure out what to call that black-rule tape!
Simple recollections like these make me very grateful for the people who took on – with no compensation – the much more complicated task of producing this paper 22 times a year in those early days. I’m equally grateful to all who have kept the paper going through this quarter of a century, being brave and resourceful enough to learn new technology and methods, which can be seriously difficult.
The start of our 25th year here at The Cape Courier created a great opportunity to learn more about the paper’s beginnings and to have many of my own questions answered. I asked founder and longtime publisher Ellen Van Fleet if she’d be willing to help with some sort of retrospective to mark the milestone, and being who she is, of course she obliged.
She asked if I could send a few questions to jog her memory. That was simple – I effortlessly dashed off 20 questions and could have asked many more. We agreed to decide what to do with what she remembered later – I figured I’d use her answers to help construct a story. But what came back was so interesting that I decided to just run with it (with some trimming).
Other people involved with the paper through the years were kind enough to oblige as well, and their recollections are included in this issue. We welcome yours, too.
Drop us a line if you’d like to tell fellow residents something noteworthy about the paper. Thank you, readers, for your support of The Cape Courier. Without it, we wouldn’t still be publishing.
Enjoy this look back.
– Patricia McCarthy,
publisher and editor
Ellen Van Fleet, founder;
What inspired you to start a newspaper!?
Jeff and I moved to Cape Elizabeth in August 1985 from New Gloucester, where we had been involved in the town’s weekly all-volunteer newspaper. The lack of a newspaper for this community became especially apparent when the fall election rolled around and I kept looking for information on the candidates in the Portland newspaper. They never did cover Cape’s upcoming election. It was the first time that I did not vote, simply because I did not have enough information to vote. I talked to everyone about the lack of a newspaper here – I think they finally got tired of it and someone said, “Why don’t you start one?”
What made you want to?
I was a stay-at-home mom, and I thought this would be a stimulating project that I could fit around my mom duties. In fact, we planned it so that tasks were divided into many small parts so they could done by busy moms. We also tailored some jobs for older ladies who weren’t able to get out much. With the exception of the advisory committee and board, The Courier was started by, and almost totally produced by women. Bob Dodd, editor, Tom Summers, paste-up and proofreading, and several other men did become devoted members of the team later.
How did you learn how to do this?
I did have about three years of experience on The New Gloucester News. That paper used some pretty primitive technology, but putting a newspaper together is basically the same whether you’re using today’s technology or not.
At The Courier, I especially remember when we got Pagemaker. Our first editor, Wendy Derzawiec learned it right off, but I struggled. I remember sitting one night at home near tears trying to figure out how to get at some layer on the page that was hidden. Now it seems so easy. I remember that I introduced (Production Manager) Sheila Zimmerman and (then-Advertising Manager) Diane Brakeley to Pagemaker – me, the teacher, that is a laugh when I had struggled with it so! Diane and Wendy both went far beyond me in computer skills.
Who did you go to for guidance?
I went back to New Gloucester and talked with Verna Hobson, my fellow editor and mentor. We talked a lot about the business side of things.
When I first decided to see if starting a newspaper was a viable idea, I talked with everyone I could think of who might have insight into the town, its needs and its possible reaction to such a project, including, obviously, Town Manager Mike McGovern, who was a bit nervous about what this endeavor would be. I am sure Town Hall thought that we might take strong editorial positions and create waves in town.
The director of Community Services suggested I contact Jan Soland, whom I had never met. Jan is such a strong, positive, let’s-get-it-done kind of person. I was lucky she said she would work with me.
From my prior experience, I knew that it was vital to have a board of directors. But first, I simply needed an advisory committee. I knew Dan Davidson, a neighbor, was a public relations expert. His help was invaluable and he became a loyal friend and supporter, and our first board president.
We knew we needed legal advice, and somehow we found Paul Thelin, who served as clerk for the newspaper from that time until last year. Bill Wadman, who passed away recently, knew the town well and could help us find people and story ideas. Later, Bob Flynn joined the board to give advice on computer issues. The advisory committee worked for a year or more to plan for the paper. Dan tells me that he joined because he, too, had noticed the Portland newspapers’ lack of coverage of Greater Portland communities.
The advisory committee was tasked with talking to potential advertisers, looking into the cost of printing and mailing the newspaper, and whether we could meet those costs. We ultimately chose the Times Record in Brunswick. We established a relationship with Direct Mail of Maine to handle the bulk mailing. I lobbied for a twice-monthly paper – and found that quite challenging enough. The board was concerned about liability issues and made sure we got libel insurance.
We were determined that the paper would break even, and thus we made it a not-for-profit corporation – and we did make sure that The Cape Courier stayed in the black. Of course, this meant that everyone was a volunteer. It was an entire year before we could give Wendy a very token bit of compensation. It was at least two years before we attempted some kind of monthly salary for her – minimal as it was. It was four years before the publisher received any remuneration.
The decision was made at the advisory stage that we wanted the paper to be free and mailed to all 3,500 households. Dan remembers the committee believing that we needed a free, distributed newspaper “to establish a sense of identity of the town – community identity was one of the major driving factors” in that decision. Another was that it was important to advertisers.
I remember meeting at my house the night everyone came armed with potential names for the paper. We all rather liked the alliteration with the two C’s, but what clinched it was when Jeff Van Fleet (a silent, vital partner on this project) thought of using the imagery of the Joanie Benoit statue, which had recently been installed in front of the library, as the ‘I’ in the word “Courier.”We all loved the image of a courier carrying the news to town.
How did you structure the paper?
It was all about trying to pull the community together. There are enough differing, if not opposing, voices in a community – but I, and the advisory committee, felt that a community newspaper could help make a two-way conversation.
Wendy Derzawiec really structured the paper. The Cape Courier never would have made it without Wendy. She was a trained and experienced journalist. Wendy created a mock-up of the paper – Schools, Clubs, Town News, Churches – and best of all, Neighbors. She designed the pages, the fonts, and the overall layout. She wrote half the paper, she made it all fit – and she was always calm and pleasant even during the times she was overworked (always) and underpaid (always).
Wendy remembers thinking that The CC had arrived when she saw on the sign at the police station – “Check The Cape Courier.” I had a similar experience at a Town Council meeting I covered (a rare event, as Wendy will tell you – I avoided reporter jobs, which must have infuriated her). At that meeting, there were two references – one to seeing something in The Courier and the other a councilor requested that certain information be submitted to The Courier. It made my day.
How did you get the word out?
The advisory board and Jan had many contacts and pulled in early volunteers. I wrote up a flier asking for volunteers and listing various jobs available and posted it on bulletin boards around town. Someone put it on the town’s new cable channel. That’s how Wendy found out about it – her husband saw it on Channel 3.
What do you recall from the earliest days?
We started out in Jan Soland’s upstairs bedroom. That’s why we gave our incorporating name as “Upstairs, Inc.” It is a tribute to those very early days and always makes me smile! Jan owned a Brother computer, which we used for the first issues. It was basically a glorified word processor. Typists came to Jan’s house a couple days a week to take the information that had come in by mail and get it in electronic form. One day, I was at the “office” without Jan and wanted to use the computer – I couldn’t find the blankety-blank “On” switch! Jan finally arrived and showed me that it was on the back of the machine. I remember thinking, how am I ever going to get out a newspaper if I can’t even turn on the computer!
The machine used floppy disks. We’d get the disk to Wendy, who would edit the contents. She would then think of headlines – and Wendy wrote the most wonderful droll headlines. She knew how to calculate what size the font should be to cover the correct number of columns. She put that all together on one of those disks, along with the headlines, and one of us would drive this to G&G Typesetters on outer Congress Street. They could print out our work on regular sheets of paper. We returned a day later to pick them up. Wendy made a handmade “dummy” on regular paper for each page of the newspaper. I can’t imagine how she put all that together. I think the paste-up process took us a good part of one day and then we also had a night session. First, we put in the banner, the volume number and date (sometimes we would forget – some issues show those errors.) Then we laid in the ads.
We took the printed sheets from G&G and cut the columns out with scissors, waxed the backs with a hand-waxer, and lay them on a grid sheet. You had to use a triangular ruler to get them square – and to make sure lines of text ran evenly across the page. Computers do all that now. We then added the headlines.
We always saved the grid sheets from prior issues. We stripped the ads, banner and reusable filler material and set the grid sheets on a shelf under the paste-up table. When the proofreaders found errors, they marked them, and we tried to figure out how to make the correction. For a fairly common word, or a combination of letters, we would go through the old grid sheets and find what we needed. We cut out tiny pieces with the letters and very meticulously laid them over the errors. When we got the laser printer, we could reprint the whole half page. But we did it this way for quite a few years.
Then there were the pictures. Volunteers had to get the film to us, and we’d take it to 60 Minute Photo on Ocean Street by the old bridge in South Portland. I think we had to go back the next day to get the photos. When we did the page layout, we’d cut red plastic to size and placed on the grid sheet to hold a spot for the photo.
After layout was done, Vic Antos transported the “boards” to Brunswick. I know for years my garage was a critical transfer point for this and typing, etc. I left the box in my garage and he picked it up and delivered it on his way to work. The Times Record delivered the bulk of the papers to Direct Mail, Vic picked up the remainder of the papers and put them in my garage. I saved some papers for the office, for subscriptions, etc., then got a group of volunteers who delivered the rest to local businesses all over town, plus the library, Town Hall, etc., where they could be picked up to be read. Later on, we lost Vic, and the printer delivered the papers to Maine Hardware (thanks to Sheila’s husband Pete, who owned it). I got to know the salesmen there, as they were always helpful carrying the stacks to the car.
Who knew anything about ads?
I had a bit of experience making ads in New Gloucester, but it was pretty rudimentary and the ads were quite basic. Sacha McGraw had a daughter the age of my daughter and I found out that she had experience selling ads. Before the first issue, she solicited many ads and I went with her some so I could learn how to approach advertisers. I should tell you that in high school I struggled with writing and I always thought salespeople were aggressive and I would never have anything to do with sales. It blows my mind that I got involved in a project that forced me to do two of the things I thought I was least capable of doing.
Carolyn Young was a longtime ad manager. She had a wonderful way on the phone, everyone enjoyed her sense of humor. She laid out the ads and made an ad list. Tobey Scott, an invaluable computer guy, set up a program to manage the advertising. We had a separate person manage classified ads for a while – listing them on a ledger sheet, tallying the total incoming fees, counting the money and then separating the ads into categories. I remember typing in the classifieds.
It all took TIME! We decided to charge a fee for building ads. Camera-ready ads were a blessing.
We also had to keep track of the business end of things. Doug Stewart, a neighbor, was our first treasurer. I had an adding machine with a tape to run the totals. They all had to be made out by hand at first and then mailed – yes, and we stamped each envelope. There was always the problem of delinquent accounts – keeping track of that, sending multiple bills and finally some made me mad enough that I’d go and stand in front of them trying to get paid. After a few issues a woman named Linda Curran volunteered to help with billing.
Later, a delightful elderly woman named Dot Ricker became bookkeeper. That woman was an angel. She was fighting lymphoma the entire time I knew her. She was so cheerful and did such an exacting job of keeping our books. She became a surrogate mother to me. I miss her still. When Dot died, I took over bookkeeping again – now we were computerized so generating invoices was easier – but Linda Wakefield would meet me monthly at night at our office to create the business reports and help me sort out whatever mess I had managed to make in the past month.
Did you ever feel you’d taken on too much?
When Jan announced she was running for School Board, I felt pretty low. I was scared stiff to have the major responsibility alone. When Jan left, we lost our bedroom office.
For perhaps three months, we were based out of my family room. Dan Davidson allowed typists to come to his basement office and type – I remember Simonne Jordan, a loyal typist for years, walking gingerly up an icy Ocean View Road to Dan’s in the black of winter. Judy Berg was another intrepid typist – worked all day and stopped by on her way home. At some point we added a volunteer coordinator whose job was to line up the two to three typists for the week, the paste-up crew and the proofreaders.
We found space in the basement of the Girl Scout headquarters at Fort Williams, downstairs where they stored Girl Scout uniforms. It was kind of like being in a big closet. We set up our slanted paste-up table that my husband had made and the Girl Scouts let us use a table and some green Girl Scout typing chairs. I had a key to the park gate. I remember in the dark and cold of winter opening the gate so volunteers could enter or leave the park, sometimes as late as 11 p.m. I loved the view on my way to work though!
What was the most fun part in those days?
I always loved paste-up day. Such a wonderful group with lots of laughs – and we always had the most fun discussing all the news that wasn’t fit to print. Sheila Zimmerman brought such charm and humor to that day. Tom Summers was an older Cape resident who became very devoted and a huge help. He always reminded us that much of the town didn’t have kids in the schools and we needed to cover more than schools. Tom also built one of the paste-up tables and a lasting contribution, his idea, was to take all the issues and have them copied onto regular-sized paper and bound into annual volumes. It made it so much easier to go back to old articles to see what had been written.
As the years went by, some of the luster wore off. It could feel like a grind at times. I knew I was running out of energy to tackle yet another challenge and it was time to go. How Wendy and Bob Dodd did it, I don’t know. They really carried the burden of filling the paper; my tasks were more varied, with the logistics, the people problems, money problems.
What surprised you?
An ongoing surprise was that people kept coming out of the woodwork to help. I would panic when some critical person quit – Richard Strout, our first computer guy, moved away – but then I got Tobey Scott, a new neighbor, who spent many an hour with me in the Town Hall basement installing software he had written to help manage ads and our financial data. I can’t begin to mention everyone, but I so appreciated each and every one.
Losing Wendy sent me into a tizzy, but Bob Dodd had been on the board and stepped forward. I would have left The Courier much earlier if he had not been there. He was a delight – wrote, edited, did layout into the wee hours of the morning because the man did have a real day job! And he never complained, always cheerful and positive. The real wealth of this town is the public-spirited people who come forward to make things happen.
Do you look back now with great pride?
Yes. It is like my children, grown up and doing fine on its own.
What are you proudest of?
I am proudest of the approach of The Cape Courier – that all succeeding publishers and editors have kept our plan for a community newspaper that builds community.
How satisfied do you feel that after 25 years, the paper is still in business?
I am so pleased that other people have come along who keep The Courier going. I know how much work it is and I am so pleased there are enough crazy newspaper types out there who enjoy the challenge.
Ellen Van Fleet, president of the Cape Elizabeth Historical Preservation Society, says she will add an unabridged version of this Q&A to the society’s records.