Maine Political Coverage: A Little Good, A Lot of Bad
Real reporting, but not much of it: On August 2, Gov. John Baldacci announced several nominations for important posts that should have gotten even an average reporter’s journalism glands secreting. That’s because at least two of the nominees came with some serious baggage.
But with the exception of the Bangor Daily News’ Kevin Miller, no reporters bothered to follow up.
Miller wrote a story detailing the successes and failures of David Littell, the current commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection and Baldacci’s nominee for a vacant spot on the Public Utilities Commission. Miller also noted that one of the governor’s choices for the University of Maine System Board of Trustees, Kurt Adams, was the source of some controversy in his previous government job, as chairman of the PUC.
There’s nothing exceptional about what Miller did. This type of recounting should be standard for every major gubernatorial nomination. All it takes is a quick check of the files or a Google search. But that didn’t happen in most newsrooms.
Likewise, the MaineToday Media papers let the governor’s press office do the work for them, regurgitating its material as an uninformative piece on Littell and mentioning Adams only in a long list of nominations, most of them routine.
Miller just did his job. But in the sad state of Maine journalism, that makes him a stand-out performer.
Press-release journalism: It looks sort of like a news story. Except there’s no byline. And important facts are missing. And it’s about as one-sided as possible.
On August 3, the Bangor Daily News ran a piece headlined “District 9 candidate visits voters.” The article had nothing to do with the movie about giant shrimp-like aliens, instead focusing on a legislative candidate named Patrick Hunt running in Maine House District 9.
Where’s District 9? The story doesn’t say. I guess it could be in South Africa.
Is Hunt a Republican, a Democrat, a Green Independent or unenrolled? Again, nothing in the article.
Who’s he running against? No word on that.
How does he stand on the issues? The piece cites his campaign flyer as saying he wants to “boost industry and tourism, bring back jobs to the region and save community schools.” Who doesn’t? As for tax reform? Nothing. Balancing the budget? Nada. Health care costs? Zilch.
Mostly what the piece says is Hunt is going door to door campaigning. Almost all legislative candidates do that. It’s not news.
How could anyone who claims to be a journalist put together such an uninformative article?
Well, they could have started with the press release Hunt sent to the Bangor paper, which it thoughtfully posted online.
Then, some incompetent editor could have removed a few key facts, while making no effort to add anything of use to voters. Also, he or she hid any reference to the alleged news story’s origin as a product of the candidate’s campaign.
This is no way to cover an election, but it’s all too often how several Maine dailies and weeklies do it.
There’s no excuse for that.
Ronzio defended his paper’s coverage of recent controversies involving Republican gubernatorial candidate Paul LePage by saying:
“I know how that story was reported. I know how it was edited. I know how the decisions were made, how follow-ups were decided, how phrasing was chosen and how the fallout felt.”
Then, he criticizes Gagnon for not calling him before writing his piece. (For the record, I didn’t bother to call him, either.)
Neither of those points is particularly relevant in rebutting Gagnon’s central – and very valid – charge, that the media coverage of LePage in particular and the campaign in general isn’t very good. Maybe Ronzio needs to spend less time rebutting and more time editing.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org