Sun Journal Executive Editor Judith Meyer at her desk in the newsroom. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal file photo

BAR HARBOR — When an accident in Durham left two dead in 2016, Judith Meyer raced to the scene with her notepad and pen in hand.

While knocking on doors in the neighborhood, she discovered that one of the injured passengers had died in the arms of a bystander to whom he had shared his final words: “Please, tell my family that I love them.”

Her heart-wrenching, award-winning story conveyed the devastation of the crash in a way which is so often sought, but rarely accomplished.

At the time, Meyer wasn’t a reporter. She was the executive editor of Maine’s third-largest daily newspaper, the Sun Journal.

But she’s never been one to stand by when there’s work to be done.

On Saturday, Meyer was formally inducted into the Maine Press Association’s Hall of Fame with an introduction that recognized her relentless advocacy for government transparency, her leadership of newspapers in central and western Maine, and her door-knocking, cold-calling brand of journalism.

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In addition to leading the Sun Journal newsroom, Meyer is also executive editor of the Morning Sentinel, Kennebec Journal and half a dozen weekly newspapers in western Maine.

While officially inducted last year, the 2021 honorees were among those celebrated Saturday in Bar Harbor at the Maine Press Association’s first in-person conference since 2019.

Introducing Meyer at the Hall of Fame luncheon, Sun Journal Publisher Jody Jalbert spoke of her character, career and accolades, while also sharing comments from family and colleagues.

In 1990 as a stay-at-home mom of two, Meyer, who had no experience in journalism, responded to a Sun Journal job posting to cover evening meetings in the Oxford Hills region. Soon, she was taking every assignment that came her way.

Her children still have memories of being taken from their beds in their pajamas in the middle of the night to go to the scenes of house fires and car accidents.

As a freelancer, Judith Meyer, now the Sun Journal’s executive editor, wrote her first article in September of 1990 on Buckfield’s Community Day. Sun-Journal (Lewiston, Maine) Newspapers.com

Meyer was hired as a full-time reporter based in the Norway bureau in 1996. During her years at the Sun Journal, she’s held the positions of bureau chief in Norway and Rumford, editorial page editor and daytime managing editor.

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“(Her reporters) know she has been where they are, doing the work they do, writing the stories they’re writing,” said Sun Journal staff writer Chris Williams. “They know she would do that work again on any given day, because they know she is in the news business because she loves local journalism and has that fire in the belly. They can see that she thrives on pursuing truth and turning incidents and events into well-crafted stories about people and community.”

At the induction Saturday, Meyer shared two anecdotes from her life which have inspired her persistent pursuit of truth and transparency.

As a child, Meyer was bit by a dog. It didn’t cause serious harm, she said, but it did require trip to the doctor’s office.

When her mother confronted the owner who lived across the street, he claimed his dog couldn’t have bit her because it was always leashed.

So, her mother collected evidence of the free-roaming dog, took the owner to court and won. Meyer said she never saw the dog off leash again.

“My second grade brain knew that she was teaching me to stick up for myself,” she said. “But what she also taught me is that facts matter. That truth matters. And when you put facts and truth together, you can make something happen.”

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And as a reporter in 2001, Meyer fought to ensure both the public and media had access to information mandated by law, sparking a new passion for the public’s right to know.

Month after month, she called the state medical examiner’s office seeking information on how a 27-year-old mill worker had died on the job in Rumford. Finally, she was told the man had dragged an electrical cord through a standing puddle and died by electrocution.

She wrote the story and received a call from his mother the next day.

Every single day, for three month’s, the man’s mother called the state medical examiner’s office seeking the same information. Every day she was told the information was confidential.

When Meyer questioned the office, she was told their policy was to release information only to the media. Soon, that was changed and the office decided it would no longer give out information to the press until the family was informed.

But that meant that if a family never requested information, the press — and by extension, the public — would never get access to it, Meyer realized.

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Following her editorial critical of the office’s policy, the office agreed to release information to both the public and press upon request, as required by state law.

“The experience crystallized for me that public access to government is not given,” Meyer said. “It’s a fight. We all have to have a hand in it. And we all have to do it every single day to maintain that access.”

Over the past 23 years, the Sun Journal has won the MPA’s Freedom of Information Award 19 times largely due to Meyer, her knowledge of the law, her advocacy and her work guiding Sun Journal staff efforts to maintain government transparency.

She was instrumental in the formation of the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition, the leading advocacy organization for improving open meeting and public record laws in Maine. A state compliance audit by the organization led to the formation of the legislature’s Right to Know Advisory Commission, of which she is a member.

“I can’t think of anyone who has done more, more often, and more successfully to keep Maine government open and accessible to the public than Judy Meyer of the Sun Journal,” Sigmund Schutz, a lawyer and one of Maine’s foremost authorities on the state’s Freedom of Access Act, said in his endorsement of Meyer’s induction.

Five other Mainers were also inducted into the MPA Hall of Fame Saturday.

Earl Brechlin has been a journalist in Downeast Maine since 1981. In 2001, he co-founded the Mount Desert Islander along with then-Ellsworth American publisher Alan Baker. Under Brechlin’s leadership, the Islander earned first place among Maine small weeklies 12 out of its first 13 years, best in New England for several years and was honored by a first-place award from the National Newspaper Association.

Lincoln County News publisher Chris Roberts and sports reporter/photographer Paula Roberts, were also inducted. Chris Roberts, a fourth-generation owner of The Lincoln County News, has led the paper for nearly half a century. His wife, Paula Roberts, logs tens of thousands of miles each year crisscrossing the state to cover local sports teams, sometimes covering several games at different schools in a single evening.

Dieter Bradbury, retired deputy managing editor of the Portland Press Herald, and Dot Roderick, one of the first female advertising executives in the newspaper industry who worked for The Portland Press Herald, Evening Express and Sunday Telegram, were officially celebrated alongside Meyer for their 2021 inductions.


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