For most of the 1980s my family lived in the suburban town of Fair Lawn, New Jersey. When I was about 10 years old, I got a paper route and delivered the Bergen Record. It was my first job, and for a 10-year-old, it was good money. My route paid for a new bike and my first computer – a then state-of-the-art Apple II-C. To this day, I can still remember the details of the route: the houses, the staircases I had to climb, people who took a few weeks to pay their bills.
"I always put that on my resume: 'From Little League opening days to World Series games.'"Maureen Mullen
"My parents bought the house, I guess in 1965, and it was supposed to be their starter house, but was such a great neighborhood, they ended up staying there," she said. "It was so much fun. If you ever wanted a game or anything, all you had to do was walk out your front door and there were tons of kids to play with. But it is a little bittersweet being back. It’s the first time I’ve really been back since my father sold the house almost a year ago. It still feels like home."
Maureen is one of four children and the paper route was passed down from one kid to the next. We met on a beautiful, sunny afternoon that would have been a great day to deliver papers. We laughed about trudging around on cold winter days.
"I still think my interest in news goes back to that. When I was delivering the papers, I would pull a paper out of my bag going from house to house," she said.
A Love Of Sports And Writing
Maureen loved sports growing up. She ran cross country and track, played baseball and fought to get a girls soccer team at Lynn English High School. But she was just as passionate about getting a byline in the Daily Item. Every year, the paper selected some students to write a weekly column.
“I actually applied to do that as a junior. And the guidance counselor said, 'No, it’s only for seniors.' So I said, ‘All right. Well, I’m applying now for my senior year,’" she said, laughing.
Maureen interned at the Daily Item during college in the 1980s, but her professional life didn’t begin at a newspaper. She worked on educational videos. She moved to Florida then Missouri. Then she landed in a job she hated. That's when she thought, “Life is too short to not be enjoying your work.”
Back in Massachusetts, Maureen started calling sports editors and they started giving her assignments as a reporter.
Before long, Maureen became a regular in the press box at Boston’s Fenway Park, writing about baseball for the Boston Globe, USA Today, MLB.com and more. She built relationships and her reputation grew. In 2007, during spring training in Florida, Boston designated hitter David Ortiz called Maureen over to his locker. He wanted to tell her a story about a man he’d met at Fenway the previous summer.
"Somehow he got connected to a solider from New Hampshire who was going off to Iraq. The soldier who was very young, early 20s, said to him, 'OK, hit a home run for me today.' And David says, 'Well, I don’t know if I can do that, but I’ll try.' And not only was it a home run. It was a walk-off home run. You know, he heard from the kid later. The kid was thrilled. Couldn’t have been happier."
Ortiz hadn’t heard anything more until that morning at spring training.
"David got a call telling him that the solider had just been killed in Iraq," she said, choking up at the memory. "As he’s telling me the story, he’s crying. He pulls a t-shirt out of his locker and he’s wiping his eyes with it. I’ve got a huge lump in my throat. I’m trying to be professional and not cry and I’ve got tears in my eyes.
"He knew that I would handle it in the right way and I wasn’t going to sensationalize the story."
Big League Credentials, Small Town Stories
Writing about the major leagues and covering a couple of World Series didn’t keep Maureen from taking smaller assignments over the past 15 years, including a few for the Lynn Daily Item.
"I covered Little League opening days, too! I always put that on my resume: 'From Little League opening days to World Series games.' Oh, yeah, I’ve never thought of myself as too big for those things."
Last year, after 137 years of ownership by the same family, the Daily Item of Lynn went up for sale. Ted Grant, a former editor, organized a group of local investors who bought the paper in September. Grant knew Maureen and had been following her career.
“Anytime I saw a Maureen Mullen byline I always read the story. And even if I wasn’t particularly interested in the subject, I was interested in this kid from Lynn,” he said.
Within a couple of months, Grant offered her a job: sports editor. For Maureen the timing felt just right.
"It had kind of been at the back of my mind, ‘Maybe it’s time to do something different.’ So when this opportunity came up I just kind of looked at it like, ‘That’s karma telling me something right there,’" she said.
A Paper's Problems, A City's Problems
The problem of turning around a newspaper is a common one these days. But the Item has additional challenges. Lynn is a city that’s struggled with crime and a tough economy for decades. About 91,000 people live there, and according to U.S. Census Bureau data from 2013, more than 1 in 5 residents live below the poverty line.
“Lynn has always had this 'Lynn, Lynn, city of sin' thing," Grant said, referring to an old rhyme everyone in Greater Boston knows.
Lynn, Lynn, city of sin
You never come out the way you came in.
"It’s an urban community, so of course it has its issues like any other urban communities does," Grant said. "But none of us are in it to make a killing. We aren’t silly enough to think that all of a sudden this is going to be worth a gazillion dollars. It’s not. But what it can do is help a community."
Twenty years ago in downtown Lynn there were so many vacant storefronts that the city had murals painted on plywood — murals of stores, old-time vegetable stands, hardward stores. They hung them in the windows to protect the plate glass and to dress up the downtown as best they could. I know because I used to intern at a radio station on Exchange Street right across from the Daily Item building. It's a massive, five-story structure and when Maureen was a kid delivering the paper, it would have been a bustling spot. It housed the printing press and the huge staff that worked on the newspaper. Even later, in the mid-1990s, the circulation was about 30,000. Today it's about 10,000.
The Item recently moved into a much smaller space a few blocks away. The staff is down to about 40 full-time people. Maureen Mullen understands the challenges. But she also knows that her section of the paper can do something rare in the modern media age: connect with kids.
"I played sports in high school and I just remember how big a deal it was for me if I saw my name or my picture in the paper and I try and keep that in mind too because with some of these kids this might be it. A lot of them aren’t going out to go on and play college and play professionally. So I try to keep that in mind and remember how important it is for them and how special it is for them.
Maureen Mullen still reports on the big leagues from time to time, but sometimes the best stories are closer to home.
This segment aired on July 18, 2015.