Erin Rhoda loves Maine. She grew up here. She lives here. And she wants to see Maine thrive.
“I am forever fascinated by the stories here, the people, the issues,” said Rhoda, who is editor of Maine Focus, a Bangor Daily News investigative team. “I find it a deeply empathetic profession even if it doesn’t always seem that way from the outside.”
Rhoda, 34, grew up on a hobby farm in Washington, a small town in Knox County, where she hayed fields, stacked wood, and fed sheep, goats and turkeys. She did her undergraduate work at Colby College, then spent time in Ghana, helping to run a youth group.
Her volunteer work also has taken her to Sierra Leone, Zambia and Botswana.
Rhoda worked a few years as a journalist at the Courier-Gazette in Rockland before heading to Ireland for graduate school, where she earned a degree in creative writing.
When she returned to the United States, she got a job in the Somerset County bureau of the Morning Sentinel, where she worked from 2009 to 2012. After landing at the Bangor Daily News, Rhoda distinguished herself with in-depth coverage of the opioid crisis. She humanized the story by spending 2½ years following an addict who died of an overdose.
“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to write,” she said. “He let me see him at some very vulnerable times. I am forever grateful he let me in.”
Garrett Brown’s story triggered an overwhelming response from the community, leading to hundreds of people contributing ideas for addressing the state’s opioid crisis. Another effort raised $17,000 so that Narcan, a life-saving drug for addicts, could be distributed in the Bangor region.
Rhoda points to other work that has made a difference, including stories on the decline of rural Maine, the pain suffered by rape survivors, and decisions at the Department of Health and Human Services that resulted in money being diverted away from a program meant to help infants.
Rhoda said when she gets criticism, she listens carefully to determine whether it’s a complaint about a fact that might be wrong — warranting a published correction — or someone who just doesn’t like “the deliverer of the message.”
As a journalist, she finds it important to be flexible and persistent, and both an optimist and a skeptic.
“We all have a responsibility to make sure the information we’re putting out there is clearly labeled and clearly written so we are making it as clear as possible it is backed up, well-sourced and based in facts,” she said.
Rhoda said she’s often thinking of ways to engage readers online. When the newspaper asked the public to weigh in on different economic development proposals, more than 2,000 people responded. She said it’s all part of serving readers — and making a difference.
“There’s a real potential for journalism to change people’s lives. And not just to inform, but to move people and write the first version of history and tell stories of who we are, where we’ve been and where we are going,” she said.
In a nutshell …
POSITION: Maine Focus editor, Bangor Daily News
YEARS AT CURRENT EMPLOYER: 6
YEARS AS A JOURNALIST: Nearly 10
FAVORITE SOURCES FOR LOCAL NEWS: The Bangor Daily News is my local newspaper, but I read and listen to news from across the state.
FAVORITE SOURCES FOR NATIONAL NEWS: There are many, but I especially appreciate ProPublica, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The New Yorker and This American Life. The Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia is also worth mentioning for its stellar reporting on the opioid crisis.
ADVICE FOR BEING A SMART NEWS CONSUMER: Use common sense. Read a story before sharing it. Read to understand what people know and how they know it, not only what they think. Support news organizations that do the hard investigating.