MPBN Slow to Respond to Information Request
Public radio ignores a member of the public: Jonathan Reisman of Cooper is a conservative activist, former congressional candidate, and teacher of environmental policy at the University of Maine at Machias. On October 7, Reisman sent the following e-mail to Jim Dowe, president of the Maine Public Broadcasting Network:
“I am writing to request information on how much support environmental groups have given MPBN since 2001. I want to know the level of financial support and in-kind support/volunteer efforts given to MPBN from the
Natural Resources Council of Maine
Cool Air-Clean Planet
Maine Peoples Alliance
More than a month passed without a response, so Reisman sent a second e-mail (which he copied to me) repeating his request and “formally invoking Maine’s Freedom of Access Act guaranteeing access to public records.”
On Nov. 29, I e-mailed Dowe and MPBN vice president and chief financial officer John Isacke to ask why Reisman was getting the cold shoulder. No word from Dowe, but Isacke replied promptly, saying this was the first he’d heard of the matter. “While I do not believe that the information requested is subject to a FOAA request,” he wrote, “we will provide it to him nonetheless.”
A few hours later, Isacke sent Reisman a detailed accounting of the environmental groups’ contributions, which amounted to a combined total of about $70,000 over the last decade, a fraction of a percent of total donations during that period.
And there the matter rests. Except for lingering questions about why the president of a news organization that advocates openness in government and transparency in the use of public funds would ignore Reisman’s initial e-mail for almost two months, and why it took a query from a media critic to prompt one of his subordinates into action.
Just because it’s public radio doesn’t mean you can steal its stuff: On Nov. 22, Keith Shortall, news director at MPBN radio, produced a story about an increase in the number of Maine homeowners falling behind on their mortgage payments.
The major difference was the Staho piece was credited to Daniel Martin, said to be the site’s “financial expert.” Martin lifted whole sentences from the MPBN story and made it appear as if he’d interviewed people he never spoke with.
Shortall discovered the unauthorized appropriation of his material when he checked to see if Google News had picked up his original report.
I sent both Martin and Staho.com an e-mail asking for an explanation. No reply from Martin, but Staho responded:
“We've contacted Keith and apologized. We've added a link to his article, but we are ready to remove the article entirely at your request.
“It's not our practice to do that, it was a mistake. We are truly sorry.”
Adding a link doesn’t mitigate plagiarism. The piece should have been removed from the site promptly, replaced with an apology and explanation. And it wouldn’t have hurt if Staho decided to find a new “financial expert,” one with some background in journalistic ethics.
Moving and management shifts at MaineToday Media: The Kennebec Journal will be moving to new offices somewhere in Augusta by March of next year. MaineToday Media, the paper’s parent company, announced in the KJ’s Dec. 1 edition that it has sold its Western Avenue home to Crisis & Counseling, a non-profit agency dealing with mental health and substance abuse issues.
The sale price wasn’t disclosed, but the agency’s CEO said it paid less than the property’s assessed value of $3.3 million.
MTM had been seeking a buyer for the building since consolidating its printing operations at its South Portland plant earlier this year.
Even more significant than the real estate transaction were several personnel moves also announced at MaineToday.
Dale Duncan, former publisher of the Indianapolis Star, was named president and chief operating officer of both the KJ and the Morning Sentinel in Waterville. Duncan joined MTM earlier this year on what was supposed to be a temporary basis to direct political coverage.
In other moves, KJ editor and publisher Tony Ronzio’s responsibilities were expanded, as he assumes those same posts at the Sentinel. Former Sentinel editor and publisher Bill Thompson will become editorial page director for all the MTM papers.
On the cyber side of the business, the company’s new vice president of new media and digital operations, Tim Archambault, has resigned. Scott Wasser, executive editor of MaineToday’s Portland Press Herald, will assume his duties.
What’s it all mean?
On the plus side, Ronzio will have broader authority over the news content of the papers, which should bring some life to the anemic pages of the Sentinel. Thompson’s title change looks as if he’s been kicked upstairs, but at the least, the move should result in some local editorials finally reappearing in the Augusta and Waterville papers, which have been relying for more than a year on opinion pieces written by Portland staffers.
Duncan got high marks from some MTM insiders for bringing some direction to the papers’ haphazard election coverage. Whether he does the same to managing the central Maine papers remains to be seen.
On the minus side, Wasser has seemed disconnected from day-to-day operations since arriving at the Press Herald shortly after MaineToday purchased the paper in June 2009. That can’t be a good sign for an online operation that requires constant monitoring.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com.