Sunday follies: If the July 12 edition of the Maine Sunday Telegram is representative of what we can expect from MaineToday Media’s ownership of the paper, the future of the former Blethen news outlets looks grim, indeed.
Take the exercise in editorial confusion that is the front-page story by staff writer Beth Quimby on home foreclosures in the state.
The sub-headline informs readers that “the supply of bank-owned bargains is shrinking.” But right next to that statement is a chart that indicates that in the last six months, foreclosures are up in three of the five listed housing markets. And below that is a bar graph that shows statewide foreclosures have increased in the same period by more than 11 percent. Somehow, from this information, Quimby and her editors concluded, “The foreclosure crisis in Maine may be slowing.”
The only indication of that in the story is anecdotal evidence that some banks may be more willing to work out deals with homeowners to avoid default. At one Portland real estate auction of foreclosed homes, Quimby writes, about 25 percent of the houses were pulled back from the sale because the lenders and borrowers may have reworked their agreements. But if the story’s figures are to be believed, that auction, which was offering about forty foreclosed homes a month two years ago, is still bringing down the gavel on seventy-five a month this year.
That doesn’t look like a decrease. It does appear to be another case of trying to twist the facts on the economy to make the situation appear rosier than it is.
In the same issue, the Telegram’s Ann S. Kim has a story on a comprehensive national study of hospital rates of patient mortality and readmissions after certain serious procedures.
How do Maine hospitals measure up? According to Kim, they’re “close to the national average.”
Close? As in below? Isn’t that bad?
I couldn’t tell. The story contains a few selected ratings, some difficult-to-compare national figures and the address of a Web site where readers can go if they want to do the research that used to be done by reporters.
This piece cried out for a chart allowing consumers to compare health-care facilities, but publicizing poor grades runs the risk of offending the influential people who sit on hospital boards. That’s not a sound business strategy for a newspaper struggling to hold advertisers.
The Telegram did have an excellent story about the growth of the heroin trade in York County. It was written by reporter Scott Kraft – who works for the Los Angeles Times.
Wait. Isn’t that paper published clear across the continent? How come it has the scoop on drug dealing on the Telegram’s doorstep?
To be fair, the version of this article that ran on July 12 included “Staff file material” from the Portland paper. Inserting that must have felt like real journalism.
Finally, the Telegram offers up another astonishing opinion column from editor and publisher Richard Connor, in which he claims that Sarah Palin’s resignation as governor of Alaska and Washington Post publisher Katherine Weymouth’s handling of what appeared to be an attempt by her paper to sell access to key editors, reporters and members of the Obama administration resulted in “a bad week for women in politics and business.”
Connor cites no examples of any women other than Palin and Weymouth whose reputations suffered from their foibles. He also doesn’t offer any thoughts on how the misdeeds of South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford or financier Bernie Madoff might have resulted in a “bad week” for men. Or even a bad year. He just offers up this remarkable conclusion:
“Men make stupid decisions every day but, let's face it: For better or worse they still have the upper hand. Pressure still exists for minorities, and I include women in that group, to be better than everyone else. Yet they still have to – rightly or wrongly – prove themselves.”
Welcome to the 1950s, ladies.
Delayed reaction: On July 11, the Portland Press Herald had a scoop. Readers could be excused if they missed it.
Buried down in the last few paragraphs of staff writer Tom Bell’s story on new plans to develop the Maine State Pier on the Portland waterfront is the revelation that the structure doesn’t need $22 to $25 million in repairs to keep it from falling into the sea.
But weren’t those alleged costly repairs the whole reason the Portland City Council wanted a developer to lease the pier (at an extremely favorable rate) and build a hotel? Blogger and investigative reporter Colin Woodard raised that issue and a whole bunch of other uncomfortable questions the Press Herald story didn’t explore.
After Woodard posted his comments on July 13, Bell finally came through with some answers in the next day’s paper.
Better late than never.
Wrong cure: The Lewiston Sun Journal’s reality-challenged copy editors offered up another example on July 13 of why it’s important to read stories before writing headlines. Over an article on the Jay School Department’s plan to immunize students against seasonal influenza, the Sun Journal carried this:
“Schools to participate in H1N1 vaccine program for children”
As the story by staff writer Donna Perry correctly noted, the vaccine in question isn’t designed to prevent swine flu.
Now, if only there were a shot to cure ineptness.
No public (radio) airing: A Republican activist e-mailed me to ask why Maine Public Radio broadcast gavel-to-gavel coverage of the nomination hearings of GOP President George W. Bush’s U.S. Supreme Court nominees, John Roberts and Samuel Alito, but isn’t doing the same for the proceedings on Sonia Sotomayor, Democratic President Barack Obama’s choice for the high court.
Maine Public Broadcasting Network vice president for radio and television Charles Beck said he asked the same question of National Public Radio after being informed that NPR wouldn’t have live anchored coverage. “They said only a few stations expressed interest,” Beck said. “They’ve also gone through some budget cuts down there, so that might have something to do with it.”
MPBN is offering streaming video and audio from the hearings on its Web site through a feed from the Public Broadcasting Service.
It’s also airing news updates and a nightly wrap-up of each day’s session on all MPR stations.