An Editor Calls It a Career in Bangor
Moving on: Mark Woodward, the executive editor of the Bangor Daily News, announced on Nov. 2 that he’s retiring as of the first of the year.
Woodward joined the BDN in 1971 as a reporter. He was promoted to editorial page editor in 1982 and spent 15 years in the post, before leaving in 1997 to work for Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins in Washington. He returned to the paper later that same year to take over the editorship.
His short stint as Collins’ communications director, as well as his wife’s employment in the senator’s Bangor office until her retirement two years ago, caused him some ethical problems. During Collins’ 2008 re-election bid, claims of bias surfaced, and Woodward removed himself from all editorial decisions as to coverage of that race.
No replacement has been named, although the Bangor paper has a tradition of promoting from within. Among those whose names have surfaced in the rumor mill as a possible editor-in-waiting is Todd Benoit, the BDN’s director of new media and former editorial page editor.
Woodward said he hasn’t decided what he’ll do in retirement.
No rush on this fire story: On Oct. 21, two Westbrook firefighters, both female, filed a sexual-harassment lawsuit against the fire department and city officials. The court case is the latest development in a long-running dispute between the women and the department that has already resulted in Westbrook paying financial settlements and disciplining several firefighters.
For some reason, it took the Portland Press Herald nearly two weeks to notice another suit had been filed. A story finally appeared on Nov. 3, long after the daily paper had been scooped by the weekly American Journal.
(Disclosure: My weekly political column runs in some papers owned by the same company as the American Journal.)
The Press Herald regularly plays catch-up on articles that were first reported by local weeklies (although, as in this case, it almost never gives credit to the original source), but the paper usually manages to do so within a couple of days after being beaten.
Let’s hope this more lackadaisical approach isn’t the start of a trend.
Berries on the brain: Both the Bangor Daily News and the Maine Sunday Telegram decided to fill up space this past weekend with stories on Maine’s cranberry crop. Both papers’ articles skimmed across the bogs without diving very deeply into the issues confronting the industry. And the two pieces managed to contradict each other several times.
The Bangor Daily story by staff writer Sharon Kiley Mack says Maine had 196.7 acres of cranberries under cultivation by “about 30” growers in 2008. The Telegram piece by staff writer Beth Quimby cites 2007 figures that have the state growing 299 acres of the fruit, up from 220 acres in 2002. The paper says the number of growers is 40.
Mack’s article focuses on this year’s poor growing conditions due to excessive rain, with one farmer predicting a harvest of “half what I got last year.” Quimby limits her discussion of the lousy weather’s impact on the crop to part of one paragraph in the middle of the story. “A soggy pollination period will decrease the crop to about two-thirds of the 200,000 pounds produced last year,” she writes.
That 200,000-pound figure may be for a single farm, but it’s not clear from Quimby’s story. No statewide number for cranberry production is cited by Quimby , even though such a statistic would seem to be essential to a story that claims the industry is thriving in Maine.
Mack doesn’t give a total amount of cranberries produced, either, but one can be extrapolated from her story (if one is inclined to do the work the reporter should have done in the first place). Mack says each acre produces an average of 100 barrels of berries, and each barrel weighs 100 pounds. Using the 196.7-acre figure cited in this article, that comes to 1,967,000 pounds of cranberries produced statewide in 2008. Mack said growers were paid 94.2 cents a pound last year, making the crop worth $1,852,914.
But she also says prices will be sharply lower this year – just 35 cents a pound – due to decreased demand during the recession. That means the reduced 2009 harvest will be worth only about $344,225 (assuming Mack is correct about it being half the size of 2008) or $229,483 (if Quimby’s figure of a two-thirds reduction is closer to the mark).
Since Mack reports it costs 42 cents a pound to grow the cranberries in the first place, these figures would seem to indicate the industry is headed for a disastrous year in which every farmer will lose money. But there’s no discussion in the Bangor article of the implications of this income plunge, and the Telegram story ignores the issue altogether, maintaining a resolutely optimistic tone.
Taken together, the two pieces demonstrate that neither reporter did anything close to a thorough job.
Unsubtle subtitles: Editor/publisher Richard Connor of the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal, and Morning Sentinel in Maine, as well as the Times Leader in Wilkes-Barre, Penn., is the subject of a satirical video posted on the New England Press Association’s Web site.
I don’t get all the references, but that’s not really necessary to understand the piece, which demonstrates the downside of making enemies of people with a creative streak and the right software.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com.