No Insight on Maine Episode of “Insights”
Pseudo-journalism: In February, Bangor Daily News staff writer Diana Bowley wrote an article headlined “National show to feature Foxcroft Academy.”
The story claimed the exclusive private school in Dover-Foxcroft would be the subject of a feature on a “national television program” called “Insights” hosted by retired network news anchor Hugh Downs. The show was to air on PBS stations across the country, according to a photo caption that accompanied Bowley’s piece.
As far as I can tell, that never happened. There is no PBS program called “Insights.” The alleged show is actually a bunch of short segments produced by an independent production company in Florida called Vision Media. Vision Media then offers them to various broadcast outlets as infomercials.
Downs does not appear in the pieces.
How often segments such as the one on Foxcroft Academy actually make it on the air seems to be a matter of some controversy. Vision Media claims 100 stations have signed up to broadcast them, but in an April 20 National Public Radio story by David Folkenflik, PBS officials said they doubted any of their stations had ever run that material.
The subjects of these TV pieces, mostly non-profit organizations and new companies, pay dearly for whatever limited exposure they get. Folkenflik reported that Vision Media charges about $25,000 apiece for the video segments. It’s not clear how much Foxcroft paid.
The NPR story also mentions Putney Inc., a Portland company that was approached about an “Insights” segment, but rejected the offer when its owners discovered how much it would cost.
Oddly enough, there’s never been any follow-up in the Bangor paper, reporting on how it got taken in by Vision Media, setting the record straight, and getting reaction from Foxcroft on its experience. I wonder why.
Figure fumble: How hard can it be to read the gubernatorial candidates’ campaign finance reports – they’re available online – cull out the most important numbers, and write a clear story detailing who’s raised the most and from where?
Too hard for the Associated Press, apparently.
AP reporter Glenn Adams made a mess of the totals filed on April 27.
In some cases, Adams reported the amount the candidate had loaned his campaign – such as with Republicans Les Otten and Paul LePage – and in other cases – the GOP’s Bruce Poliquin – he buried that figure in with contributions.
That made it appear as if Poliquin had a lot more popular financial support than he really did and made it difficult for readers to judge the relative strengths of the campaigns.
Adams also seems to have bought into a news release from Republican Matt Jacobson claiming he had taken in $160,000 in donations. While that’s technically true, it’s also misleading. Jacobson collected only about $60,000 in the current reporting period. The remainder was raised last year, making him one of the poorest candidates in the field.
Flag fumble: There it was on the front page of the April 26 Lewiston Sun Journal: a Confederate flag waving in the background of an Associated Press photo taken at the previous day’s pro-gun rally in Portland.
What did it mean? Who was displaying it? Why was such a provocative symbol being used?
Nothing in the AP story by David Sharp.
Nothing in the Portland Press Herald piece by Ann S. Kim.
An explanation in the TV coverage?
Not that I could find.
For some insight into what should have been part of any complete story on the event, I had to wait until April 27 and the belated story in the Portland Daily Sun (which doesn’t publish on Mondays).
The Sun piece by David Carkhuff didn’t answer all my obvious questions, but at least somebody noticed there were questions to be asked. In a time of what Thomas Cushing Munjoy, the since-departed pseudonymous blogger, called “drive-by journalism,” I suppose noticing is, at least, something.
News fumble: Here’s a little Journalism 101. The object in covering a gubernatorial debate isn’t to make sure all the participants get equal coverage. The object is to report the news.
When a candidate says something new that might be of interest to large numbers of people, that’s news. It goes at the top of the story. Even if it means the other candidates don’t get the same amount of ink or airtime.
Doesn’t seem complicated, but it does seem to be beyond the capabilities of the MaineToday Media papers (The Portland Press Herald, Morning Sentinel and Kennebec Journal).
Buried deep in staff writer Susan Cover’s April 28 story on a Democratic candidates’ debate the previous day in Bath is Rosa Scarcelli’s solution to the state’s chronic lack of funding for road repairs and construction: Charge a toll on Interstate 95 from Augusta to Bangor.
I hadn’t heard that proposal before. I suspect I’m not alone. Somebody with even a minimal amount of news judgment should have stopped it from sinking to the bottom of the piece.
News recovery: The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting continues to prove its worth with its superb series on the gubernatorial candidates. The latest piece by Marian McCue on Democrat Rosa Scarcelli is particularly useful to voters looking for insight into the candidate’s background.
Although Scarcelli has been running for months, no other journalist (including me) discovered her relationship to controversial developer Pamela Gleichman – Gleichman is her mother – and big-time national politics.
If those of us who pretend to cover politics in this state can’t even unearth something that obvious, we should consider turning in our campaign credentials and doing theater reviews.
Political theater: If that happens, maybe theater reviewers could start covering politics. It’s already happening in the Press Herald.
On April 26 and April 28, the paper carried stories on a Washington play in which U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree from Maine’s 1st District was appearing. The event was an annual fundraiser featuring pols from both parties as well as minor celebrities.
The stories carried the byline of Rebecca J. Ritzel, a Washington freelancer, prompting a couple of e-mails from news junkies speculating that this was part of MaineToday Media’s long-promised move to re-open its bureau in our nation’s capital.
Not so, I’m told by an MTM source. Ritzel specializes in the arts, with a deeper understanding on the machinations in Macbeth’s court than in congressional offices.
Unless Sen. Olympia Snowe or Rep. Mike Michaud get sudden urges to appear in cabaret, we’re unlikely to see Ritzel’s byline in the future.
Back into the wilderness: Here’s some encouraging news, for a change, about a MaineToday Media newspaper. According to a knowledgeable industry source, the Waterville-based Morning Sentinel is considering re-opening its Farmington bureau in the near future.
The Sentinel pulled out of Franklin County when the recession hit a couple of years ago, although it continued to cover the area from its Skowhegan office. That put the paper at a competitive disadvantage with the Lewiston Sun Journal, which has two reporters based in Farmington, where it also owns the weekly Farmington Journal.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org