Let's Play House
Moving in: The Bangor Daily News has reached an agreement with the Blethen Maine Newspapers to share office space at the State House. According to BDN editor Mark Woodward, the rival companies will split the cost of the Bangor paper’s space in order to save money.
The BDN no longer has a full-time reporter covering state government. Blethen’s Kennebec Journal in Augusta and Morning Sentinel in Waterville went without a reporter on that beat for much of the summer, while State House veteran Susan Cover filled in as an editor. Now, Cover is back to reporting, but in a new location.
“We don’t fully utilize [our office],” Woodward said. “We have specialty reporters who go down there from time to time. It made sense to share the space.”
The new arrangement means that reporters from Blethen’s Portland Press Herald will also use the BDN space when they visit Augusta. The Press Herald closed its State House bureau earlier this summer.
If Woodward has his way, his paper might be sharing more than an office in the future. He’d like to see the state’s dailies swap stories, as well.
“We gain more collaborating,” he said. “We don’t really compete anymore. We have to work together to succeed.”
Woodward admitted that any kind of agreement to have a single reporter covering the State House for several publications has a downside. It reduces the number of eyes and ears keeping watch on legislators, the governor and the bureaucracy.
“Absolutely,” he said. “But if we can’t do it individually, the public is better served with some eyes and ears than none.”
Right move: Press Herald environmental reporter John Richardson did some nice work in his Aug. 26 piece on new federal rules to protect right whales.
While most of the state’s papers ran wire service copy on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s decision to slap speed limits on large vessels, Richardson went beyond that breaking news to provide important context as to how the political machinations behind the regulations might affect Maine’s lobster industry. Lobstermen are facing expensive new restrictions to prevent whales from becoming entangled in their lines, and this story helped explain what’s at stake, both for the fishery and the whales.
Right non-move: While I’m handing out compliments (say, what was in that drink?), WMTW-TV in Auburn deserves one for exercising restraint. In the early morning hours of Aug. 25, the station captured video of South Portland police shooting a suicidal man, but chose not to air the most graphic parts or put them on its Web site.
“It’s not enough for video to just be compelling,” news director George Matz told the Press Herald. “You have to weigh the value of video and what it offers the viewer in terms of the story we’re telling.”
State Police are investigating the shooting and have said they’d like to look at WMTW’s outtakes. Let’s hope the station does the right thing, by again exercising restraint and requiring the cops to get a court order before it surrenders the video.
Muddled move: This is what happens when newspapers don’t have enough editors. Readers get confronted by non-stories like the one that ran in the Morning Sentinel on Aug. 26 under the headline “Maine traffic death statistics don’t follow national trend.”
Staff writer Meghan Malloy started out with a good idea: Check to see if a national study showing a drop in highway fatalities was reflected in this state’s numbers. She informs us that the number of fatalities nationwide declined over 22 percent in March 2008 compared to the same month in 2007. In April, the rate was down nearly 18 percent.
Malloy then tells readers that Maine has had 95 fatal accidents so far this year. Is that a lot? A little? How does that figure compare to the number of highway deaths at the same point in 2007? The story gives no clue.
It does say the state had 22 fatalities in April, the most of any month this year. Was that more or less than the same month last year? Did it reflect a trend in Maine or was it an anomaly? We weren’t told.
This story should have been dead on arrival at the copy desk.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com.