Sometimes Story Sharing Can Be a Bad Idea
Skipping school: On February 1, the Maine Department of Education released a list of changes it was making in financial aid to local school districts. Nearly all those alterations were reductions, in some cases substantial ones.
These cuts will have a substantial impact on many schools and virtually all property taxpayers, so it seemed like a no-brainer for any legitimate news source to turn out a story detailing how much the education system in its area would be affected.
But for some inexplicable reason, two of the state’s daily papers opted not to do their own stories. Instead, the Bangor Daily News and Lewiston Sun Journal ran an article they got from their story-sharing arrangement with the Portland Press Herald that focused primarily on how the changes would impact Portland’s schools.
The Bangor paper did post a brief Associated Press piece on its Web site that included a link to the education department’s full list. But it didn’t do a story on how the reductions would hit schools in Bangor and vicinity. It didn’t do a regional piece on the reaction from Aroostook, Piscataquis or Washington counties. In fact, it didn’t do anything – until the next day when it ran an article on how much Hancock County stood to lose.
The rest of its coverage area? Hey, they can look it up for themselves.
The Sun Journal did a little better, turning out a regional piece on February 3, a story that contained not one bit of information that couldn’t have been obtained and printed 24 hours earlier.
The best coverage of the issue was in the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel, both of which gave their stories the local angles they needed (the two papers opted not to pursue their usual policy of sharing coverage, instead producing separate pieces geared to their individual circulation areas), and the urgency the issue demanded (they managed to get these articles into print on February 2, the morning after the information was released).
One more note on the Press Herald’s coverage. Pseudonymous blogger Thomas Cushing Munjoy has raised some serious questions about that paper’s figures concerning the municipal school budget and the amount the city is losing in state aid. Munjoy’s math seems to have some validity. To date, however, it’s had no effect on the coverage.
If he’s wrong, it would be instructive if the paper proved it.
If he’s right, it would be ethical to run a correction.
Missing point: An alert reader e-mailed to question a statistic in the latest Arbitron survey of Portland radio stations.
If you click on any station and then click on “Details” about the Portland market, Arbitron will inform you that the area is “13.0% Hispanic.”
I checked the U.S. Census figures, and I think they got that decimal point one figure too far to the right.
Bore no more: Maine Press Association executive director Mike Lange has posted an instructive piece on the group’s Web site on how to cover town meetings without putting readers to sleep.
Nothing Lange writes is particularly shocking or innovative, but considering the number of unreadable and/or incomprehensible town-meeting stories I’ve seen in Maine papers in recent years, it wouldn’t hurt anyone assigned to cover one of those events (as well as their editors) to take a little refresher course in Journalism 101.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org