Awards Are Only News If You Win
Sore losers: The Maine Press Association gave out its annual awards last weekend at its fall meeting, but don’t expect to learn much about who won by reading most of state’s daily newspapers.
The Portland Press Herald ran an Associated Press brief that mentioned the four new inductees to the MPA’s hall of fame, but nothing about who was named journalist of the year, newspaper of the year or who published the cutest picture of a puppy. The Press Herald didn’t even bother to list its own prize winners, of whom there were somewhat fewer than in the recent past.
The Bangor Daily News ran the same wire-service brief on the hall of famers, but inserted a sentence mentioning it had picked up 14 first-place awards (the story isn’t posted on the paper’s Web site). There was nothing I could find in the Kennebec Journal or Morning Sentinel. The journalist of the year works for the Times Record, so I suspect the Brunswick paper will have some sort of story when it comes out this afternoon.
And then, there was the Sun Journal.
The Lewiston paper devoted a sizeable portion of its Oct. 18 front page to an article on its publisher being inducted into the hall of fame.
And the front page of the Maine section carried another long piece about all the other awards Sun Journal staffers had won, including daily newspaper of the year. Other than the hall-of-fame inductees, it skipped the honorees who worked for other papers.
Which brings up a couple of questions I’ve raised before:
If it’s news when your paper wins an award, why isn’t it news when another paper wins the same award? If being named Maine journalist of the year is an honor worth mentioning when one of your staff members wins it, why doesn’t it merit a few lines of copy when somebody’s else employee takes it home?
One footnote on the Sun Journal’s prize: On Oct. 19, the newly crowned newspaper of the year’s Franklin County edition had no staff-produced articles on page one. If it wasn’t for a piece on turning waste wood into fuel that the Lewiston paper got through its story-sharing arrangement with the Press Herald and a photograph by a staff photographer, the front of the paper would have been devoid of local content.
Was everybody at the Sun Journal too exhausted from covering the awards ceremony to go out and find any real news?
Welcoming the freebies: There was actually some news of the newspaper industry that happened at the MPA meeting. According to the group’s e-mail newsletter of Oct. 19, the association, which previously limited membership to paid-circulation papers, has opened its doors to free publications.
According to its amended bylaws, the MPA will now admit “Maine newspapers of general circulation, free or paid, that provide original news and editorial content, the majority of which is produced by local staff or purchased from recognized news sources.”
The newsletter said the change was due to “the growth of the [free newspaper] industry and the improved quality of the publications.” But the real reason probably has something to do with tough economic times. The association has been losing members – it also voted at this meeting to cut its dues and offer discounts for publishers of several papers – and needs new blood to survive. That probably had a lot to do with the lack of opposition to a change that had been routinely rejected in the past.
Opening up: I haven’t had much good to say about the changes MaineToday Media has been making at the Press Herald, KJ, and Sentinel, since completing the purchase of the three dailies in June. But the latest policy shift is a positive one and deserves commendation.
On Oct. 18, the papers carried an explanation on their editorial pages of the process used to make political endorsements.
According to the item, decisions on ballot issues and candidates will be made by a majority vote of a board composed of editor/publisher Richard Connor and editorial writers at the three papers, as well as the company’s chief financial officer, human resources director and circulation director.
By adding members from outside the traditional circle of editorial employees, Connor said the endorsement process would “represent the entire newspaper” and add “diversity.”
Whether that’s true or not, this change at least let’s readers know who’s calling the shots. It’s long past time for other papers to follow suit.
Hanging on: Circulation was down at most weekly papers in Washington County this year, according to figures from the publications’ annual filing with the U.S. Postal Service.
At the every-other-week Quoddy Tides in Eastport, the average number of copies sold dropped from 4,897 in 2008 to 4,606 in 2009, a decline of just under 6 percent.
Tides publisher Edward French said the recession “hasn’t hit us as hard as some places,” although that probably has something to do with the county’s economy being weak even before the economic downturn.
The Down East Coastal Press (disclosure: my weekly political column runs in that paper) in Cutler saw sales slip from 3,520 to 3,403, down a little over 3 percent.
Press co-owner Fred Hastings said circulation has stabilized over the summer, but hasn’t shown any signs of returning to pre-recession levels. In an e-mail, Hastings said the loss of some subscribers has prompted him to consider starting a Web site with paid content for “those loyal readers who are increasingly frustrated by the poor mail service surrounding timely and consistent delivery of periodicals.”
The Machias Valley News Observer in Machias sold 2,639 papers on average this year, but the staff was too busy to dig up the 2008 figure.
Blogger banned: Gerald Weinand, the editor and owner of the liberal political blog Dirigo Blue, says he’s been banned from posting comments on the conservative Web site As Maine Goes.
Weinand got the boot on Oct. 17, after he posted a complaint about how proponents of Question 1, the effort to ban same-sex marriage in Maine, were conducting their campaign. He said Scott Fish, the spokesman for anti-gay-marriage side and the owner of As Maine Goes, had been playing supporters for “dupes” by omitting information from the group’s television spots.
Fish responded with an e-mail cutting off Weinand’s posting privileges. According to the version posted on Dirigo Blue, Fish said, “Separate from Q1 or any other issue - I'm not, on my own web site, going to be falsely called a liar, I'm not going to have motives attributed to me that have no basis in truth or reality.”
As Maine Goes still allows a few opponents of Question 1 to post comments, although none has written anything as provocative as Weinand did.
Weinand, who allows conservatives to post on his site (although few do so), wrote that he wasn’t surprised to be banned. “[A]llowing me to post there was like allowing an enemy to operate behind the front lines,” he wrote.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com.