Maine Editorial Writers Are An Endangered Species
Six months ago, the Kennebec Journal/Morning Sentinel editorial pages were filled with a feisty mixture of local opinions from a variety of sources, produced and/or assembled by Naomi Schalit.
Today, the papers have no editorial-page editor and fill the space with letters to the editor, opinion pieces copped from their sister paper, the Portland Press Herald, or editorials picked up from wire services on topics of limited relevance to readers in central Maine. Recent examples, none of which are posted on the papers’ Web sites, include Washington Post pieces (available online only to subscribers to that paper) on whether the line of succession to the presidency should be changed and whether more severe penalties for airlines that leave passengers sitting on the tarmac are needed. There was also a Los Angeles Times editorial on how awful it is that an NFL team still uses the nickname “Redskins.”
(At least that last one has some irony value. The former owner of the Sentinel and KJ banned the term “Redskins” from its pages several years ago, editing all stories to read “Washington football team.” Since the papers were purchased by MaineToday Media in June, that ban appears to have been lifted, and the slur is once again common on the sports pages.)
(A further irony: If you click on the link above, you’ll be taken to a page on the Times Web site, where you’ll find an advertisement for the official Washington Redskins store.)
I’m not criticizing the Sentinel and KJ for devoting space to national issues. My complaint is that those borrowed editorials are running in lieu of opinion pieces on local matters. For the better part of half a year, the Augusta and Waterville areas have been completely ignored by their daily papers’ editorial pages.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. In August, the papers announced they’d hired Texas journalist Bill Thompson to write editorials.
But when Thompson arrived in Maine several weeks later, he was, instead, named editor of the two papers, and the editorial-writing job remains vacant. Thompson did not return a phone call last week inquiring about when or whether the post was going to be filled.
The situation at the Lewiston Sun Journal is a little better. But only a little.
Except on Nov. 27, when it ran no editorial at all.
I guess it’s tough to come up with a coherent opinion after a big Thanksgiving meal.
Since Ronzio moved on, the editorials have been written by Rex Rhoades, the Sun Journal’s executive editor, and Judith Meyer, the paper’s managing editor.
Rhoades said the decision not to replace Ronzio right way was budget-related. He said he and Meyer would continue to write opinion pieces at least until the end of the year, but when asked if a new editorial-page editor would be hired in 2010, he said, “I can’t guarantee that.”
The Portland Press Herald never replaced its opinion editor, John Porter, after he was ousted in the June ownership change. Instead, editorial writers M.D. Harmon and Greg Kesich handle matters conservative (Harmon) and liberal (Kesich) with a balanced blandness that’s been a Press Herald editorial tradition through three owners. The only change noticeable under MaineToday’s stewardship is a tendency to pontificate on off-the-wall topics, such as the Nov. 28 warning of the hidden dangers posed by “The Biggest Loser” television show.
At least when Porter was desperate for a topic, he picked something with a Maine connection to bore or confuse his readers.
But boring or otherwise, there are significantly fewer full-time editorial writers at Maine papers as 2009 comes to an end than there were at the start of the year. Considering there’s been no drop-off in the number of contentious issues facing the state ? issues that need all the thoughtful discussion they can get – that’s a trend that’s considerably less healthy than employing extreme methods to lose weight.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.