Some of what reporters do is routine. If handed a press release, for example, they might make a few phone calls to get quotes and context and quickly produce a story ready for publication.
But routine doesn’t begin to define the kinds of stories Steve Mistler wants to tell.
“I like to look for things other people don’t have time to do,” said Mistler, the Statehouse bureau chief for Maine Public, the state’s public broadcasting outlet.
Mistler, 46, has been working the halls of the Statehouse for eight years, first as a print reporter for the Lewiston Sun Journal and the Portland Press Herald and now as a radio reporter for Maine Public. But his start in journalism was as a sports reporter. He worked at the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire before deciding to see other parts of the country. He accomplished that by working as a freelance sports reporter in Florida and California before moving to Maine in 2003.
Mistler said a healthy dose of curiosity fuels his passion for journalism.
“I’m just naturally curious about things,” he said. “I think that’s the big reason I got into this business.”
When he made his way to the Statehouse in 2010, he landed smack dab in the middle of major changes: a new governor in Paul LePage, and Republican majorities in both the House and Senate. It was a newsy time, and even though the Sun Journal typically focused on the Lewiston/Auburn delegation, it was impossible to ignore the major breaking news around him.
“There was a lot of change, a lot of chaos and a lot of controversy,” he said. “That turned out to be a very good thing for my experience and my career.”
Early on, Mistler broke one of the big stories of LePage’s first weeks in office — his decision to remove a large mural depicting workers from the Department of Labor because he wanted the state to portray a more business-friendly attitude. Subsequent stories included protests by organized labor, as well as a mystery about where the murals were being kept and their eventual rehanging in the atrium of the Maine State Library.
As a journalist, Mistler said he hears the comments about fake news and attacks on the mainstream media’s credibility. He’s a big fan of transparency and taking the time to talk to people to explain how a story is crafted, where the information came from and what work went into gathering the news.
“Maybe in the past it was taken for granted that people understood everything we do,” he said. “It’s up to us to explain how we’re different than the things they see on Facebook.”
After his time with the Sun Journal, Mistler moved to the Press Herald for four years before making another big career change. He left print for radio.
“When I started at Maine Public radio, I was terrified of reading out loud,” he said. “I cringe when I listen to some of my stuff early on.”
But after two years, he’s gotten more comfortable and honed his radio writing skills, which are quite different from writing for print. And he’s still digging for the stories that others don’t have the time or talent to find.
“I love when people have a story with impact with readers or listeners, where there’s an ‘aha moment,’ ” he said. “I love that about the job. We’re really telling people the story behind the story. Sometimes there’s another story beneath that press release.”
In a nutshell …
POSITION: Statehouse bureau chief for Maine Public, covering politics and government
YEARS AT CURRENT JOB: 2
YEARS AS A JOURNALIST: 22
FAVORITE SOURCES FOR LOCAL NEWS: Maine Public, Portland Press Herald, Sun Journal, The Forecaster weeklies, Bangor Daily News
FAVORITE SOURCES FOR NATIONAL NEWS: The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, NPR, The New Yorker, The Weekly Standard, National Review
ADVICE FOR BEING A SMART NEWS CONSUMER: Readers, listeners and viewers should approach stories the same way good journalists do: Question the source, challenge what you believe to be true, challenge yourself.