Sunday, October 19, 2014

Maine Press Association Journalist of the Year

I received an entirely unexpected honor near the end of an award's ceremony last night: being named the Maine Press Association's 2014 Journalist of the Year. Many thanks to the MPA, which represents my native state's newspapers, and to my editors at the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram who have been so supportive of my (often time-consuming, long-form) work since joining the paper in 2012.

I had come to the ceremony to receive the first prize for an investigative project for "Lobbyist in the Henhouse," the seven-month long investigation of what happened after Gov. Paul LePage appointed an industry lobbyist to head the Department of Environmental Protection. The paper also won several other first prizes, the best advertising representative, and the three most coveted awards the MPA gives out: best daily newspaper, best Weekend newspaper, and best website. A very good night for the paper.

Also, for those with an interest in "Unsettled", the 29-part series on the harrowing odyssey of Maine's Passamaquoddy people over the past fifty years, the ebook is now available. It's free for subscribers, and available for purchase from B&N, Amazon, and iTunes. Thanks to all who came to the launch reception last week at the Salt Institute.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Republic of Pirates hits New York Times Bestseller List for Travel

A pleasant surprise this month: The Republic of Pirates made the New York Times Bestseller List for the Travel category. Based on sales in the month of September here in the United States, it came it at number 6.

The book -- a history of the infamous pirate gang of which Blackbeard was a member -- was the inspiration for the NBC series "Crossbones" and influenced Starz' "Black Sails" and Ubisoft's Assassins Creed IV: Black Flag (which are both set with this gang). Its long been available in Spanish and Danish translations, but this year also in U.K, Polish, Portuguese (Brazil), Hungarian, and Chinese (Taiwan) editions.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Don Gellers, 60s-era legal champion of Passamaquoddy, has died at 78.

I'm sad to report that Rabbi Tuvia Ben-Shmuel-Yosef -- known to Mainers by his birth name, Don Gellers -- died Wednesday in New York City. He was 78.

He was a central figure in my recent 29-part Portland Press Herald series, "Unsettled", vigorously defending the Passamaquoddy in court at a time when nobody else would, calling national media attention to official handling of the brutal 1968 slaying of tribal member Peter Francis, and filing the first land claims case against Maine (via colonial power Massachusetts).

As the series reveals, he was for his troubles run out of the state and country by a state sponsored conspiracy orchestrated by the Attorney General's office.

I'll be writing a longer story on Ben-Shmuel-Yosef  for next week's Telegram and will say some words about him at the "Unsettled" ebook launch reception Oct. 16.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

"Unsettled" e-book release party, Oct. 16, Portland, Maine

"Unsettled", the 29-part series on the epic story of Maine's Passamaquoddy people over the past half century, is now available as an e-book and the Portland Press Herald is throwing a reception.

If you live in the vicinity of Portland, Maine -- or have frequent flyer miles to burn -- consider coming to the Oct. 16 event at the Salt Institute. Photographer Gabe Souza and myself will be there to answer questions about the series, with Press Herald Executive Editor Cliff Schechtman moderating. It kicks off at 6:00 pm, but space is limited so do RSVP using this link.

Here's the invite:

The ebook, published by the Press Herald, will be available free to subscribers and from iTunes and Amazon for everyone else. [Update, 10/16/14: The ebook is out now; links to download or purhase here.]

Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Republic of Pirates on sale in Poland now

The Polish language edition of my third book, The Republic of Pirates: Being the True and Surprising Story of the Caribbean Pirates and the Man Who Brought Them Down, went on sale today in bookstores there amid some media buzz. A bargain at 24 zł.
Republika Piratów -- published by Sine Qua Non in Krakow -- has gotten considerable pre-publication media attention, including this review in Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland's largest daily.

The book -- which is also available in U.K, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, and audiobook editions with others on the way -- is the inspiration for the NBC series "Crossbones" which is currently airing in Latin America and is presumably on its way to European television screens.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Talking pirates with BBC Five; Nestle Waters gets a setback in Maine

Very, very early this morning, GMT, I had an enjoyable talk with BBC Five Live's "In Short" about how pirates really talked and behaved. Here's a short excerpt (on walking the plank) from our longer interview.

The interview was occasioned by International Talk Like A Pirate Day yesterday. The UK edition of my history of Blackbeard and his pirate gang, The Republic of Pirates, was released earlier this year by PanMacmillan, so perhaps it will have attracted a few insomniac readers.

Also, in today's Portland Press Herald I reported on a surprising new development in Nestle Waters North America's effort to conclude a longterm, low-price contract with Fryeburg, Maine's (privately-held) water utility.

Staff of the Maine Public Utilities Commission has recommended the proposed contract not be approved, in part because the local utility's charter doesn't permit it to sell water in bulk to Nestle, which then bottles and sells it under the Poland Springs brand. Could this derail Nestle's decades-long pumping operations in Fryeburg? It's all up to the PUC commissioners to decide.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Did Maine overpay for iPads in schools?

Maine, home of the first statewide one-to-one computers in schools program, may have paid to much for the iPads that replaced Apple laptops in many schools a year ago.

In yesterday's Portland Press Herald, I reported on an analyst's detailed comparison of what Maine's Department of Education paid for its iPad package from Apple with what the Los Angels United School District paid for the same technology at the same time for a similarly sized program. Maine got half the discount against retail that LAUSD negotiated.

The LAUSD contract has since come unraveled because of allegedly inpappropriate ties between top district officials and both Apple and curriculum software provider Pearson. At issue is whether the district paid too much -- not too little -- for its iPad contract.

Last week, I reported that the head of Maine's program, Jeff Mao, is leaving state government. He was also at the center of a public records scandal of sorts involving the same analyst who crunched the numbers comparing Maine and L.A.