Dempsey Challenge Goes Unchallenged in Maine Media
The Maine media seems to have serious blind spots in their coverage of any group claiming to do good works. Whether it’s shipping medical supplies to Haiti, providing specialized care to children in China, or raising funds for a cancer-care center here at home, news outlets tend to trip all over themselves to provide services normally associated with lobbyists and public-relations flacks.
In no way am I saying these stories don’t merit coverage. But that coverage should never be confused with promotion. Simply because an organization is providing – or promising to provide – a charitable service is no reason for reporters and editors to go all warm and fuzzy. If uncomfortable issues arise, tough questions have to be asked.
Nowhere is that journalistic deficiency more glaring than in this past week’s reporting on the Dempsey Challenge. The walk, run and bike ride to raise funds for the Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston is an annual fundraiser promoted by its namesake, a Lewiston native and star of the TV series “Grey’s Anatomy.”
Last year, about 3,500 participants raised approximately $1 million in the October event. But that was the gross amount, before expenses were deducted. And apparently there were a lot of expenses. A hospital official initially told the Lewiston Sun Journal that half the money raised went to pay the costs of staging the challenge. That provoked a public uproar, and the facility later revised the estimated cost to 31 percent of receipts or about $310,000.
That was still higher than percentages at many other Maine charities, according to research done by the Sun Journal, but it’s within the guidelines for maximum fundraising overhead set by such organizations as GuideStar (40 percent) and the Better Business Bureau (35 percent).
This year, according to news accounts in the Portland Press Herald and the Lewiston paper, the Dempsey Challenge will be bigger, with twice as many participants, and longer, an entire weekend instead of a single day. Dempsey himself will play an expanded role in the event, even though the Sun Journal reports he has “a crippling schedule.” And the hope, of course, is that a lot more money will be raised.
In light of all that, there are a couple of obvious questions any reporter should have asked and any editor should have insisted be answered in the story:
Has the Dempsey Challenge taken any steps to reduce its fundraising costs?
How much of this year’s proceeds will actually benefit the cancer center?
Neither staff writers Deirdre Fleming at the Press Herald nor Daniel Hartill at the Sun Journal bothered to answer either one. TV coverage was equally uninquisitive.
These impertinent questions need not have been the central focus of the story, but they certainly merited at least a mention (as they ought to in any coverage of a charitable effort), so that potential donors know where their money is going and for what.
Otherwise, it’s not news. It’s advertising.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com