Results? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Results
The morning after: If you were looking for local election results from the greater Portland area early on Nov. 4, you probably searched a lot of Web sites without success. The Portland Press Herald had a comprehensive list of winners and losers, but its site was in full meltdown mode and most stories couldn’t be accessed.
The Portland Phoenix (where my weekly political column runs) had election results – from Boston. Nothing, however, on any races closer to home.
The Portland Daily Sun, a paper that ignores online readers as if the 1980s had never ended, apparently had the news on Portland races, but didn’t bother to post them on its Web site until much later.
The Bollard is still acting as if the election never happened.
In contrast to the weak showing by much of the Portland media, the Bangor Daily News not only served as the source of statewide figures for almost everybody else (gone are the days when several of the state’s news organizations complied the numbers independently, thereby providing competition to be first and some hope of catching errors), but also had the local returns from much of the northern half of Maine. Impressive.
And the night before: If all you wanted was vote totals, no station I watched came close to matching WGME-TV’s efforts on election night. Channel 13 in Portland updated the numbers far faster than its rivals (at one point shortly before 10 p.m., WGME was displaying figures representing 17 percent of the precincts in the state, while WCSH-TV had just 5 percent and WMTW-TV was at 3 percent) and made some attempt to provide context by using brief news updates to inform viewers of where the votes were coming from. There was some sloppiness – anchor Greg Lagerquist announced the Lewiston vote was in, but forgot to say which side won that key battleground and by how much – but the overall effort was preferable to the other stations’ endless live reports from campaign headquarters where nothing was happening and nobody knew anything.
And the aftermath: So what did it all mean? Most of the state’s media outlets relied on alleged experts to explain the vote, particularly on the question of same-sex marriage. They offered a lot of theories as to why the law was repealed, so many that the Lewiston Sun Journal felt compelled to divide them into two stories, one by staff writer Rebekah Metzler that had learned folks proclaiming that the pro-gay-wedlock forces had a solid lead with two weeks to go, but somehow lost it, and the other by staff writer Bonnie Washuk (quoting some of the same people) asserting the same-sex-marriage opposition’s TV spots tipped the scales by playing on people’s fears.
If the two pieces had been combined into one, perhaps an editor could have been worked out some of the seeming contradictions.
The Bangor Daily News went the traditional route in explaining the outcome, claiming in staff writer Kevin Miller’s story that it had to do with differences between urban (liberal) and rural (conservative) parts of the state.
Trouble is, rural Hancock County voted in favor of gay marriage, while urban Androscoggin County went solidly against it. Heavily populated York County approved of the law by the narrowest of margins, while Sagadahoc County, with a similar population density, went slightly the other way. Miller really had to work to jam his square theory into the round hole of the facts.
More thoughtful efforts came from the Portland Press Herald’s Matt Wickenheiser and the Web site Pine Tree Politics, both of which convincingly demonstrated the failure of gay-marriage backers to gain any traction outside of Portland and a sprinkling of widely scattered outposts.
This was analysis worth reading, filled with facts and free of the academic posturing that plagued other stories.
As for the national media, the Associated Press carried a story datelined San Francisco (!) that concluded the defeat of same-sex marriage in Maine was the fault of the Obama administration. Weird.
Which also describes the Press Herald’s examination of the vote on the spending cap initiative.
Staff writer Tom Bell concluded the defeat of the second version of the Taxpayers Bill of Rights resulted from voters’ “trust in their elected officials.” He based that mostly on comments from the aforementioned elected officials.
Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they.
One more election note: A member of the Maine media had a successful election night, although it didn’t have anything to do with journalism. Dick Gleason, whose Gleason Media Services owns five radio stations in central Maine (including WOXO-FM), won a landslide victory for the post of mayor of Auburn.
Lincoln News burns: According to a story in the Bangor Daily News, the office of the weekly Lincoln News was destroyed by a fire early Thursday evening, Nov. 5. Reports indicate the paper’s printing press, computers and files were all badly damaged in the blaze. No cause of the fire has yet been determined, and it’s not clear how the disaster will affect publication.
A clarification: In a recent posting on newspaper circulation in Maine, I compared recently released Audit Bureau of Circulations figures for the six months ending Sept. 30 with the ABC’s numbers for the preceding six months ending March 30. That probably created a false impression. Because newspaper circulation varies seasonally, it would have been fairer to make a year-to-year comparison.
If I’d approached it that way, according to a knowledgeable source, it would have shown the Portland Press Herald’s numbers were down from the same period in 2008, although recent indications are that the paper will finally pull out of its sustained slump when a new report is released next spring.
In the future, I’ll try to be more careful about comparing apples to similar fruit.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.