I remember when the new Capital Weekly was advertising for a reporter in 1995. I thought about applying, but had seen small weeklies come and go in this area and thought better of it at the time.
Obviously, I was wrong. Under the leadership of the Weekly’s first editor, Tom Farkas, the paper went from a tabloid publication to a broadsheet. He and Robert Greene, the Weekly’s first reporter, worked long, hard hours to bring local news to the Augusta area communities, as the Weekly’s General Manager John Jensen and sales representative Susie LaBelle pounded the pavement countless hours every week to sell advertising.
I came on board as a reporter in August 1997. I was named editor in 2002 and ran the paper until June 2009.
The paper continued to grow in popularity as we covered feature stories and profiles about the people in the capital area communities. We shot our own photos using black-and-white film and sent it by courier to Courier Publications’ main office in Rockland to be developed. Eventually, we went digital.
We had a people-oriented approach to news, covering stories about the wonderful things that children did in schools and celebrating the capital area’s elderly, brave soldiers, veterans, musicians, artists, athletes, quirky residents and many more. The Weekly also entertained readers with police reports that were often funny in themselves, using a creative headline to draw in readers, which turned out to be an incredibly popular part of the paper.
One of the most dramatic things that happened in the early days was the ice storm that hit the state in January 1998, which the Weekly called “The Great Ice-In of ’98.” I ran around town and took photos as did other employees and several residents. We had no power in the office to produce the paper, so Tom went to a local business that had power and emailed the stories to the main office, and the papers hit the stands as always.
We covered the closing of local mills and talked to displaced workers, as we witnessed an end to blue-collar employment in a community that was built on it.
For me, some of the hardest things that we covered were tragedies. It was important to handle those stories with finesse, as we spoke to the parents of a youngster who was less than a year old and battling leukemia, to Cony High School students and staff after a young Cony student was murdered by her stepfather and, later, when a popular teacher was murdered by her estranged husband as her children looked on.
We covered the death by suicide of a former Winthrop High School football star who had been awarded the James J. Fitzpatrick Award just a few years earlier, the death of a well-known lawyer who fell through the ice while skating at Jamie’s Pond in Hallowell, a former clerk of the house who lost his battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease, the death of a well-loved mentally ill resident who joined friends at a soup kitchen every week where he played his harmonica.
We wrote about laws that were being crafted in the Legislature and were there to write about capital area lawmakers who were elected to prominent roles in the Legislature in addition to election coverage.
We encouraged high school and college students to intern at the paper to develop their writing and reporting skills. One intern in particular, Justin Franz, stands out. When the Cony senior first came to the Weekly he was timid. I gave him a little push and eventually he was writing nice feature stories. He’s now studying journalism at the University of Montana and has turned into a responsible journalist.
Throughout the years, the Weekly was recognized for its role in community journalism as reporters, editors and sales representatives won many awards from the Maine Press Association and the New England Press Association. Under the leadership of the Weekly’s second editor, Robert Long, the paper received first place in General Excellence from the Maine Press Association.
At one time, the paper had a circulation of 7,000 or more.
The chain of papers changed hands several times. Between the financial stress and economic challenges, in the end, it could not continue. Nonetheless, the Weekly had a good run, and I, for one, am proud to have been a part of it.
Joyce Grondin of Augusta spent 12 years working at the Capital Weekly — five as reporter and seven as editor. She left in 2009.