Maggie Mills was an inspiration and the absolute embodiment of a hyperlocal journalist long, long before that became a throw-away label for very local online content.
Maggie masterfully practiced her hyperlocal skills for more than half a century in another medium — print — in Squared’s hometown and was one of the inspirations for Squared to get into, and stay in, journalism.
Maggie Mills died a few days ago at 91, only four years out of the newsroom. Nobody before, or since, so lovingly, passionately and devotedly chronicled the comings, goings, doings and, now and again, shenanigans in close-knit little Plymouth, Mass.
“Community journalism, itself, is stronger for her participation,” Tamson Burgess, now the editor of Maggie’s Old Colony Memorial, wrote in a masterful column this week. “[W]hen she became the eyes and ears and voice of the community, she stood tall before the powerful and still bent to offer a hand to the powerless. She could command the attention and respect of paupers and princes, not to mention all of those she mentored.”
A few more grafs from Burgess give you the feel for what an amazing practitioner of local journalism Maggie was.
If you lived in Plymouth or Carver from the ’50s to the ’90s, you probably knew Maggie, too. She was not just a reporter for the Old Colony Memorial, she was the Old Colony Memorial. If your Scout troop held an event to earn a badge, Maggie was there to write about it. If you made the honor roll, Maggie made sure it was printed in the paper. When your baby was born or your parent died, when your grandmother’s church guild held a tag sale, your husband got promoted – or any one of them misstepped and perhaps got into a bit of trouble – Maggie knew about it and wrote about it.
Over the years, she covered just about every beat in town. . . . She reported on the antics of town government back in the days when the selectmen’s meeting started in town hall, but the real business was conducted after it adjourned, around the corner in the Amvets club above the old South Street fire station. And, of course, Maggie was there, too.
She was for years a central part of the landscape of downtown Plymouth, walking up and down Main Street dropping in at shops and businesses, talking to anyone and everyone on the street, piecing together the everyday news that made Plymouth Plymouth.
If it was on fire, Maggie was there. If there was a crime or a trial, Maggie shared the news. If it happened anywhere in town, she somehow knew about it. And when she told the story we listened, because her every sentence and word exuded not just information but passion.
Maggie Mills cared. She gave life to the life of her community, not just because she could turn a pretty phrase or knew where to use a comma, but because the stories mattered, information mattered, knowledge mattered, this town and its people all mattered to her and she made them matter to her readers.
Maggie, of ink and paper and grit and clacking manual typewriters and boy scout jamborees and schoolmarming selectmen and walking the beat in downtown, was precisely and perfectly what the Old Colony and its GateHouse Media sibling web sites now call themselves and want to be master of today: Wicked Local.
Thanks for what we all learned from you, Maggie. Be at peace.