From AJR, April 1999 issue
Log Cabin Online
By Jamie Skinner
Jamie Skinner is a former AJR editorial assistant.
IN THE LOG CAGIN HE BUILT himself on a 30-acre homestead just north of the Vermont-Quebec border, John Mahoney is reviving old-time local newspaper traditions with a little help from technology and a lot of folksy news sense.
At www.tomifobia.com, Mahoney, a former managing editor of Quebec's Stanstead Journal, posts an e-zine aimed at the hybrid community of about 40,000 people living near the Tomifobia River. Besides providing intelligent local news coverage for area residents, the site capitalizes on Mahoney's ability to capture offbeat voices through perceptive human-interest pieces. Mahoney had resolved to create a new publication that would not be afraid to take on touchy regional issues such as Quebec separation. He decided to go electronic for financial and flexibility reasons during a sleepless night in February 1996. The next day, he bought his first modem. Six weeks later, the Log Cabin Chronicles was born.
"The thing that I find most satisfying is that here I'm in this log cabin, seven miles from town, and I'm putting up stories from and for people all over the world," says Mahoney, 63, citing his correspondents in Norway, Antarctica and Kuwait, and the far-flung former locals who log on long- distance. The site receives about 55,000 visitors a year.
"It's that whole thing about home," Mahoney says of the expatriate phenomenon. "A lot of people tell me they like the Chronicles because they're real," he adds. "I don't hype it up." Mahoney rises between 2:30 and 5 every morning to update the site, adding at least one fresh element--a feature, news story or photo essay--each day. The Chronicles also showcases poetry, fiction and photos by local talent. For breaking news, Mahoney has set up "News Junkie" links to more than 50 international news sites.
The Chronicles, which costs a little more than $700 a year to produce, is partially funded by contributions from local businesses. It has not yet yielded a profit, but Mahoney says he's not in it for the money. "I write, I make photographs; that's what I do," he says. "I'd love to make it profitable, but that's not reality right now."
Mahoney started out as a photographer; his photos have been published in Time, Newsweek, American Dance and various newspapers, as well as on wire services and television. His other ties to journalism include stints with United Press International and the Vermont Press Bureau. His ties to the Chronicles' region run deeper: His pioneer family was among the first to settle here seven generations ago.
"I'm trying to create a window for people to look in on our culture," he says of his e-zine. And when he's not busy editing the Chronicles or doing online consulting for small newspapers, Mahoney has his hands full working the same land his ancestors did.