News Judgment Switch at the Press Herald
Confused news: Early on August 8, state Rep. Sean Flaherty of Scarborough was arrested for driving while intoxicated, after he crashed his car on Interstate 295 in Freeport. The next day, the Portland Press Herald reported the incident in a news brief.
Nothing wrong with that decision. Flaherty is hardly a major figure in Maine politics, although he had been the subject of a couple of columns in the Portland paper concerning his age – he’s twenty-five – and maturity in handling an unprecedented state budget crisis.
Still, for a first-term legislator involved in a relatively minor accident, the level of coverage seemed reasonable. After all, outside of his legislative district, who really cared?
At that point, somebody at the Press Herald seems to have decided the paper had made a mistake by not giving the story more coverage. Apparently influenced mostly by what its competitors were doing, the Portland paper began churning out Flaherty stories on his previous driving record (this piece doesn’t seem to be online) and the impact his arrest would have on his part-time job as a high-school swimming coach.
Actually, there’s nothing wrong with this approach, either. When a public figure is accused of drunk driving, it’s not unreasonable to do a little probing.
What’s weird here is that the Press Herald played the story first as a minor matter and then as major story. In this case, a reasonable argument could have been made for either approach. But not when it looks as if the paper abandoned its initial news judgment that the story wasn’t worth much not because of some thoughtful editorial consideration, but simply because everybody else was doing it.
That’s not being an editor. That’s being a middle-school student.
Recycling: North East Radio Watch is reporting that WWNZ in Veazie (1400 AM) has a new FM translator at 94.1 in Bangor. Technically, the new station is known by its catchy nom de broadcast as W231CH.
More recycling: Another Monday morning, another lame profile of a gubernatorial candidate from the Associated Press. This week’s dull offering by reporter David Sharp contains not a single tidbit of new information on independent Eliot Cutler.
Coming up with something fresh shouldn’t have been that difficult. The political rumor mill is regularly churning up new questions about Cutler’s business practices and activities during his years in China.
This is the second week in a row the AP has slapped together an uninformative article on one of the Blaine House contenders. It makes me wonder if the wire service’s Maine bureau has permanently given up on real political reporting or is just taking the summer off.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com