Failing on Fundraising Reporting
Charity begins with a tough question: The Maine media loves feel-good stories, particularly those in which kind-hearted people contribute to help a worthy cause. So, it’s little wonder this month’s Dempsey Challenge, a 100-mile bicycle ride to raise money for the Patrick Dempsey Center For Cancer Hope and Healing, got a lot of free publicity from the state’s newspapers and television stations.
It had the aforementioned kind-hearted people.
It had the requisite worthy cause.
And it had a TV-star patron.
What it didn’t have was much scrutiny from journalists, who appeared to turn all soft and squishy at the mere mention of Dr. McDreamy.
It wasn’t until after the event was over that the Lewiston Sun Journal quoted one of the organizers as saying as much as half the money raised – more than $1 million – would go to pay for the event’s expenses.
But even after that figure came to light, there was no immediate reaction from reporters. The follow-up stories focused mostly on how wonderful everyone felt about participating in such a great event. No one seemed overly concerned that it apparently had cost a dollar for every dollar that was raised for cancer care.
It wasn’t until two weeks later that the Sun Journal offered up a thorough and objective look at the fundraising event by staff writer Lindsay Tice.
As it turned out, the 50 percent figure for expenses may have been too high, although organizers weren’t sure what the final number would be. Tice provided comparisons with other charitable programs and standards from national groups. It appears the Dempsey Challenge could end up falling within the accepted range, although barely so.
The Sun Journal is to be commended for this article, but the paper – and the rest of the state’s media – deserve criticism for not having asked these questions before running the first stories on the program. Dempsey is only one of many programs working with cancer patients, and it might have been useful to let potential donors know in advance how its fundraising efficiency compared with others.
Even soft news sometimes demands hard questions.
Following Maine Leads: There was no shortage of coverage in September and early October when the group Maine Leads was called before the Maine Commission on Governmental Ethics and Election Practices to explain where it got its money. Maine Leads is the driving force behind the ballot questions calling for a cut in the excise tax and a cap on state spending, and its ties to the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center and several out-of-state organizations were closely examined by commissioners. Eventually, the commissioners ordered Maine Leads to reveal the names of all donors who contributed $100 or more to its campaign efforts.
But once that decision was reached, the news media seemed to lose interest. When the group released the required documents earlier this week, it attracted the attention of exactly one reporter.
Lorie Costigan of Statehouse News Service (and the former editor of this Web site) got the scoop, even though she only covers the Augusta beat on a part-time basis.
This mass failure to follow up on the part of the remaining, full-time members of the State House press corps makes me wonder – and worry – about what else is being missed.
Glenn (or Glen) who? The Oct. 23 Lewiston Sun Journal carried a front-page story by Molly F. McGill (apparently a freelancer) on a visit to Auburn by the deputy assistant secretary of the Office of Vocational and Adult Education in the U.S. Department of Education.
This person is identified in the story as “Glen Cummings,” although it’s spelled “Glenn” in the photo caption. Other than telling readers Cummings is on a five-stop tour through Maine to learn what people think of the federal No Child Left Behind program, there’s no other identifying information.
It might have lent some perspective to the article if McGill had (in addition to learning how to spell Cummings’ first name, which is Glenn) provided a little background on the deputy assistant secretary. Prior to taking the Washington post in April, Cummings had served as speaker of the Maine House of Representatives and was often mentioned as a potential gubernatorial candidate.
How soon the media forgets.
Steady is the new up: Headline in the Portland Press Herald, Oct. 20:
“Average price of heating oil holding steady for state”
Headline in the same day’s Bangor Daily News:
“Maine heating oil up 10 cents per gallon”
(This story did not appear on the BDN’s Web site.)
For the record, the Bangor paper had it right. The Press Herald story was identical to one it ran the week before, when the price really did stay the same.
Is there an editor in the house?