Investigative Journalism Nonprofit Proposed
Christie’s new crusade: John Christie, the former publisher of the Kennebec Journal in Augusta and the Morning Sentinel in Waterville, is planning to set up a nonprofit organization in Maine to do what he calls “public interest and investigative reporting.” In a telephone interview, Christie said he hopes the program will be affiliated with the New England Center for Investigative Reporting at Boston University.
NECIR recently created a stir with its story, published in the Boston Globe, on how Massachusetts regulators had failed to sanction mortgage companies that weren’t abiding by lending rules.
In addition, the organization produced a report, also published in the Globe, on an important Bay State official’s failure to properly administer her office. The article resulted in her resignation.
Christie said the center is currently concentrating on Massachusetts, but he hopes his efforts will result in a Maine branch that will specialize in in-depth stories produced in conjunction with this state’s newspapers. He’s currently seeking foundation grants to fund the enterprise and hopes to have a plan in place and limited operations underway in a month or so.
“We’ll start with two to four people on a near-volunteer basis,” he said. “We hope to get students involved. Part of the goal is to train students.”
Naomi Schalit, former editorial-page editor of the KJ and Sentinel, is working with Christie on the venture.
Christie said he envisions an annual budget for the group of $50,000 to $100,000, along with a lot of “sweat equity.” He said the program would make its stories available to newspapers at no charge, but hopes the papers will support the effort either through in-kind donations – photography, graphic design, additional reporting – or, as the Globe does, through financial contributions.
He said the program won’t be competing with other news organizations for daily stories, but instead will devote all its efforts to major investigations of the type rarely undertaken by the Maine media.
“We’re going for extra-base hits and home runs,” Christie said.
For more information on the project, contact Christie via e-mail.
Connor’s stinker: The Portland Press Herald gave plenty of positive coverage in its Sept. 16 edition to the speech presented the day before by its editor/publisher to the Portland Regional Chamber.
Richard Connor told business leaders, advertisers, and a healthy contingent of his current and former staff that in just the three months since he bought the paper, he’d already made the Press Herald profitable. He said he was still planning to increase local news coverage by hiring more reporters and freelance correspondents (no explanation of how that will fit in with the announcement that layoffs at the paper are likely before the end of the year). He launched into a spirited defense of local newspapers as advertising vehicles, described by one attendee as sounding more like a “great endorsement” for weekly papers than his daily publication. And he answered a variety of questions from the audience.
That’s when Connor got into trouble, although his gaff failed to make the Press Herald’s story.
Somebody asked him why the paper smelled bad, an apparent reference not to the reporting and editing, but to the moldy odor emanating from recent editions. According to a witness, Connor replied that it “must be the former owners.”
Said the witness, “There was silence in the room except for a few gasps.”
Bailey bows out: There are days when Portland public-relations expert Dennis Bailey has more quotes in the Press Herald than the president of the United States. Besides representing a gubernatorial candidate, anti-gambling interests, and energy developers, Bailey has also been quoted on behalf of Connor and his company, MaineToday Media. But of late, there’s been no disclaimer in Press Herald stories mentioning Bailey’s relationship with the paper.
In response to an e-mailed question about his role with the company, Bailey responded, “I'm no longer under contract with Connor or MaineToday Media. The last time I talked with a [Press Herald] reporter, he asked me if I was and whether it needed to be disclosed. I explained the situation, but I guess he didn't think it required a disclaimer.”
Monks gets covered: The Press Herald finally got around to covering a controversy involving a member of its parent company’s board of directors.
A story by staff writer Tom Bell on a request to the city of Portland for a tax break to renovate the old Baxter Library by developer Robert C.S. Monks and his partner ran in the Sept. 16 edition. As noted in the story, Monks is an investor in MaineToday Media and a member of its board.
Bell’s article appeared two days after the same news showed up on the “As Maine Goes” Web site.
Running and writing: A reader of this blog inquired as to the appropriateness of Maine Senate President Elizabeth Mitchell writing a regular column for the Capital Weekly in Augusta, while also running for governor.
(Disclosure: My political column runs in the Capital Weekly.)
Both in print and online, Mitchell isn’t identified as a gubernatorial candidate, although she frequently writes about matters that could be considered campaign issues.
Capital Weekly editor Beth Staples said the policy of the paper and the parent Village Soup publishing group has been to allow columnists running for office to continue to write until they qualify for the ballot, usually in the spring of election years. “We don’t want to yank it just because someone’s expressed an interest in running,” Staples said.
She said the paper was open to publishing columns from other candidates for governor, but had not solicited them.
She also said she’s checking with her publisher to see if the policy needs to be revised.