NORTHPORT — Steve Mistler, who covers politics for the Sun Journal, has been named the Maine Press Association Journalist of the Year.
In addition to the MPA’s top individual award, Mistler also won a first place award for his blog, “Political Pulse,” at the press association’s annual conference held at Point Lookout on Saturday.
“Two things set Steve apart as a State House reporter: his unbridled enthusiasm and his dogged persistence,” Sun Journal Executive Editor Rex Rhoades said. “Steve loves what he does and he brings an exuberance to his work that makes his reporting a joy to read.”
In nominating Mistler for the MPA honor, Sun Journal News Editor Mark Mogensen outlined Mistler’s recent accomplishments, including that he was the first to break the story about removal of the Labor Department mural last March and, days later, was first to notice and report that the mural had been secretly removed on a weekend that the State House was closed to the public.
In April, Mistler was first among Maine media to contact Phil Congdon, former head of the state’s economic development office, after complaints about statements Congdon made in Aroostook County that eventually led to his resignation.
In October 2010, Mistler was also first to uncover and report that congressional candidate Jason Levesque of Auburn, who had challenged Rep. Michael Michaud for his seat in Washington, had a dismal driving record and had his license suspended during the congressional campaign. At the time, Levesque told Mistler his driving record was “irrelevant.”
Mistler was also first among Maine media to arrange a lengthy interview with Maine tea party leader Andrew Ian Dodge who, during that interview last December, all but disclosed he would run against Olympia Snowe for the U.S. Senate. Dodge later announced his candidacy.
According to Mogensen, “Steve exemplifies good journalism and the kind of energy, curiosity and tenacity that will keep newspapers alive in an age of pseudo-facts and opinion.”
And, “once onto a story, Steve is impossible to shake,” Rhoades said, an observation made by a number of State House sources, especially when it comes to Mistler’s targeted use of the state’s Freedom of Access Act to gain access to public records.
Mistler began covering politics for the Sun Journal in August 2010. Prior to that, he covered sports and then news for The Forecaster newspapers between 2005 and 2010. He has also worked as a freelance writer for the Blethen Maine Newspaper group, the Palm Beach Post in Florida and California’s Contra Costa Times.
Mistler, who began his career covering sports for the Concord Monitor in 1996, was honored earlier this year by the New England Newspaper & Press Association with a first-place investigative reporting award for his Forecaster series on the failed attempt by the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority to help Oxford Aviation establish a new business at the redeveloped Brunswick Naval Air Station.
According to Forecaster Editor Mo Mehlsak, after Mistler switched from sports writing to news, his “tenacity, news judgment and skillful writing helped make The Forecaster’s Mid-Coast edition must-reading for people in the Bath-Brunswick region.”
“He is a skilled and intelligent writer who knows how to pursue leads and sources, and how to ask probing and thoughtful questions,” Mehlsak said. “He understands the value of vibrant, hard-hitting, accurate, interpretive journalism.”
Mehlsak praised Mistler for mentoring other reporters at The Forecaster. “They saw him as an example of how to do good work, and he helped nurture a culture of investigative and in-depth reporting that continues to thrive.”
Reporter Randy Billings, who worked with Mistler at The Forecaster, said, “Steve is a naturally curious, skeptical and fearless person — the hallmarks of a great journalist.”
“In general,” Billings said, “Steve’s news instinct is to go against the herd, always looking to uncover new news, rather than chasing the story of the day.”
And, when he gets a story, Billings said, Mistler “then has the ability to write the story in a way that engages readers and causes other media outlets to react and follow him.”
Mistler, who holds degrees in English and journalism from the University of New Hampshire, lives in Bath with his wife, Rachel, and their 3-year-old son, Andrew.