Information We Don’t Need In Maine
Snow job: Is the Portland Press Herald desperate to fill space? Or are the paper’s editors so busy planning the next pointless overseas expedition, they don’t have time to cull the irrelevant material from whatever comes over the wires?
On February 10, the Press Herald ran a front-page story from the Associated Press on the impact winter storms are having on Washington, D.C., and vicinity.
Nothing wrong with that. The federal shutdown is a matter of concern (or humor) to nearly everyone in the country.
Where the paper slid into the ditch was the sidebar it carried (“Adapted from The Washington Post’s daily health blog”) on how to deal with being snowed in.
Is there anyone in Maine who doesn’t know you need gloves and extra socks in cold weather? Or that “silly boots,” defined as footwear lacking adequate tread and waterproofing, are a bad idea? Or how about this gem: “Unless you are physically fit, leave the shoveling to others.”
Or you could wait for it to melt.
Unless you’re journalistically fit, leave the editing to others.
Waiting for Godot: Is the embargo a casualty of the e-media age?
As Maine Goes editor Scott Fish raised that intriguing question on his Web site, after receiving a press release that requested he hold the information in it for three days. Fish asked contributors to the site if such a request was unreasonable in these times of instant reporting. He got a variety of answers from both the media savvy and the media hostile, many of which are worth reading.
Embargos have been ethically tricky since long before technology made deadlines continuous. Sometimes they can be advantageous, as when reporters are given advance texts of speeches at major events, with the understanding that the contents wouldn’t be aired or posted until after they’ve been delivered. Getting that information early allows journalists to set up interviews for reaction, get some of the writing done beforehand or even decide to skip the whole thing if the address contains nothing of importance.
But on other occasions, the embargo is only to the advantage of the issuers of the press releases, giving them time to get their act together or get out of town. Often, the proposed delay is a cynical effort to tempt some media outlet into breaking the embargo, resulting in a rush of others doing the same. Relatively inconsequential matters end up with far more coverage than they deserved or otherwise would have received.
My policy has always been to regard embargos as I did requests to go off the record. Before agreeing to either arrangement, I needed to know why. If there was a valid reason – from a journalistic standpoint – I’d hold the information for a short time. If not, tough luck, I’d put it out there. This sometimes got me taken off the list for receiving future press releases, but I always managed to get over the loss.
Covering creep: One of the major casualties of the recession has been good community journalism. Cutbacks at the state’s daily papers and TV stations have made it all but impossible for them to devote resources to local issues that require a significant amount of digging. The attitude seems to be that they’ll catch up with whatever’s going on when it gets to the Legislature or the courts or someplace where somebody else has already done all the heavy lifting.
If that never happens, well, it couldn’t have been a real story, anyway.
In place of issue-oriented community coverage, media outlets churn out feel-good stories. You know the type:
Grandpa, 105, still hauls a ton of rocks in the quarry every day.
Woman knits mittens and sweaters for Haitian orphans.
Puppies sure are cute.
Tips for surviving summer at the equator.
But real community journalism isn’t quite dead. An excellent example of it turned up in the Bollard this week. The Portland monthly ran a detailed piece by Emily Guerin on the troubled history of Maine Medical Center’s expansion plans in Portland’s West End.
The story of how neighborhood groups, some of them hastily formed, poorly organized and politically naïve, gradually managed to gain the attention of one of southern Maine’s most powerful entities to control institutional creep is well worth reading.
Guerin shows not only what happened in two neighborhoods – one wealthy and one not so much – and how they reacted, but lays out the blueprint other communities could use to confront similar developments.
Hazy Sun: The Lewiston Sun Journal’s Web site has been a mess for months.
Stories that appear prominently in the print edition either don’t show up online or are hidden in places that even a diligent seeker wouldn’t think to look. Editorials and opinion pieces often don’t get posted at all.
Use the search function? It hasn’t worked since George W. Bush was president.
But changes may be on the way. In response to an e-mail exchange with executive editor Rex Rhoades last week in which I asked him about the Web problems, I got an e-mailed response from Eric Kaiser, who seems to be in charge of fixing the problems.
“We've been working with the vendor for more than 9 weeks now and feel we are on the road to recovery,” Kaiser writes. “Most of the site functionality and original design is back with one big exception. Search. We are reindexing our content right now. Our database is huge and I haven't been given any time frame on when that will be completed.
“We are waiting on some additional server caching to be installed as well server monitoring which should help us avoid any major issues in the future.”
I don’t know what most of that means, but I thought I’d share it anyway.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com.