E-mail Tales Revealed
Sun shines: The Lewiston Sun Journal did something in its August 9 edition that’s all too rare in Maine journalism. It used the state’s Freedom of Access Act proactively.
The newspaper employed the law to get e-mails sent by Lewiston city councilors about recent disputes among themselves and with now-dismissed City Manager Jim Bennett.
There were no shocking revelations in the article by regional editor Scott Thistle. Some councilors had rude things to say to each other. A couple of them appeared to have used their elected positions to help friends or employers navigate the municipal bureaucracy. But the exercise was nevertheless useful in raising some ethical issues and in lending perspective to the pettiness underlying the ongoing feuds at City Hall.
A political activist complained to me that the story was overblown, given its length and front-page placement. That person has a point, but it’s a small one. The piece could have been half as long without sacrificing any essential information. But I think such criticism misses the article’s real value as an example to the rest of the journalistic community.
The Sun Journal didn’t wait around until somebody alluded to the e-mails in public debate. It went after the documents before the rumor mill had time to distort what was said by whom.
Traditionally, editors and reporters in this state have used the FOA law only after a scandal has broken or in the wake of an official’s refusal to release information. That’s the sort of reactive journalism that allows government to set the agenda. Demanding the release of such material before something serious goes wrong can, at best, serve to prevent disaster. At worst, it reminds public officials that somebody is paying attention.
Those subjected to this kind of scrutiny often deride the activity as a fishing expedition. So what? Do you have a better way of catching fish?
Aboard the board: The board of directors of MaineToday Media – parent company of the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel – is shaping up. According to a story in the August 11 Press Herald, the Portland Newspaper Guild, the union representing most workers at that paper and several at the Sentinel, has chosen its two representatives. They are guild vice president Greg Kesich, an editorial writer, and Chris Mackin, a Massachusetts consultant specializing in employee ownership deals.
Kesich and Mckin will join a board composed of MTM editor/publisher Richard Connor, Peter Brodsky of HM Capital Partners of Dallas, and local real-estate investors Robert Monks and John Higgins. One seat reserved for a representative of two unions at the Kennebec Journal has yet to be filled.
Mike’s not missing: I got an e-mail from a news junkie inquiring about the dormant state of my Downeast.com colleague Mike Tipping’s own Maine Politics blog. The usually prolific Tipping hadn’t posted anything new on his site in over a month, but promises to return shortly. In an e-mail, he explained his absence was due to being on vacation, followed by a heavy work schedule at his real job at the Maine People’s Alliance.
Tipping did put up a posting on August 11 offering 1st District Congresswoman Chellie Pingree’s appearance on the previous evening’s “Colbert Report,” but the video doesn’t seem to work. Until Tipping gets his act back together, you can catch Pingree’s act here.