Maine Investigative Reporting Center Debuts
Christie gets cracking: John Christie, former publisher of the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel dailies, will officially launch his Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting on Jan. 7, when its first in-depth story appears in the Bangor Daily News, the Lewiston Sun Journal, the Ellsworth American, and the Mount Desert Islander. According to Christie, the story, which he researched and wrote, will cover the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that took place during last year’s legislative debate over tax reform, showing how lobbyists and friends of Gov. John Baldacci used their influence to remove and rewrite key sections of the legislation to protect certain special interests. The story will also be posted on the center’s Web site.
Since announcing his plans to start the non-profit group last September, Christie has been busy lining up an advisory board of prominent journalists and finding outlets to distribute the stories the organization will be producing. What he hasn’t yet accomplished is coming up with any funding.
“I realized it was going to take a long time to get grants,” he said, “and I was itching to write this story. I also thought it would be easier to get grant money if I could point to work I’d already done.”
Christie said the first article required 150 to 200 hours of research, and setting up the center cost him $3,000 to $4,000 of his own money.
“In that sense,” he said, “we’re running in the red.”
The newspapers that carry the center’s work will not pay to do so. Instead, Christie said, they’ll contribute by advising him, as well as helping with editing and distributing the stories. “It’s offered as a public service,” he said.
Christie expects the center to produce a new in-depth article every two months or so, although he said he has some shorter pieces he’s working on that may see print in a couple of weeks. He also expects some of the stories to be produced in radio versions for airing on the Maine Public Broadcasting Network. [Update: MPBN News Director Keith Shortall says this is unlikely to happen; see comment below.]
Shortall is listed as a member of the center’s advisory board. He didn't mention that on the network’s Web site, where he posted the introduction to an interview he did with Christie about the center. Shortall says that's because he's not actually a board member; see comment below.
Missing from the list of media outlets planning to carry the center’s stories are the publications Christie formerly oversaw, the KJ and Sentinel. Those papers, as well as the Portland Press Herald, are now owned by MaineToday Media. Christie said MTM publisher/editor Richard Connor “has been nothing but disdainful of my tenure there” (Christie resigned in June when Connor purchased the papers), and “the message he sent me is he has no interest in what I think or do.”
Neither Connor nor MTM executive editor Scott Wasser responded to a phone message seeking comment on Christie’s statement.
Christie’s next step is to incorporate the center as a non-profit organization, and he’s seeking an attorney to volunteer to help with that process. He’s also looking for journalists willing to contribute time and effort to future investigations.
As for the organization’s first story, Christie assessed it in baseball terms:
“I don’t think it’s a home run, but it’s certainly a stand-up double.”
Ignoring Skolnik: The center’s investigative stories aren’t the only thing missing from the Press Herald. On Jan. 5, the paper ran a piece by staff writer Matt Wickenheiser on the previous evening’s meeting of the Portland City Council.
In the final two paragraphs, Wickenheiser mentions that councilors turned down by a vote of eight to one a proposal by Councilor Dan Skolnik to revise the eligibility requirements for the Police Citizen Review Subcommittee. He doesn’t bother to say how the requirements would have been changed nor does he mention why there was such overwhelming opposition.
For that information, readers would have to turn to the West End News Web site, where editor Ed King has a piece detailing the heated conflict at a workshop meeting earlier in the day between Skolnik and some of his fellow councilors, which concluded with Skolnik walking out. Although he returned for the regular meeting, Skolnik, according to the News, packed up and left after his review subcommittee plan was soundly defeated.
Little of this pattern of behavior has found its way into the Press Herald (which endorsed Skolnik’s council candidacy).
You gotta wonder why.
New kid in town: The MaineToday Media papers have hired an additional State House reporter. Ethan Wilinsky-Lanford, 29, started on the job on January 4. Wilinsky-Lanford grew up in Southwest Harbor, has family in Bangor, and has worked as a reporter for the Concord Monitor, as well as doing freelance work for the New York Times, and CNN, some of it from hot spots in central Asia.
“He’s done some really incredible things in Asia,” said Kennebec Journal managing editor Tony Ronzio, to whom Wilinsky-Lanford will report. “He’s very experienced [and] he’s coming home to Maine.”
Wilinsky-Lanford joins veteran KJ reporter Susan Cover in the MTM State House bureau, where they’ll be providing coverage to all three of the company’s dailies. This marks a change from past practice, when the Press Herald has traditionally had a full-time reporter of its own in Augusta or – more recently – a part-timer during legislative sessions. For the first time in decades. the Portland paper will have no regular presence in the capital.
Old kid in a new town: John Porter, who lost his job as editorial page editor of the Press Herald last June when MaineToday Media took over, has a new gig. On Jan. 5, Porter was named the new president of the Bangor Region Chamber of Commerce.
Since leaving the Press Herald, Porter had been operating his own governmental affairs and consulting business.
John Diamond, chairman of the chamber’s board of directors, told the Bangor Daily News that the newly hired president “understands and has been a high-profile advocate for business and economic development and for collaborative efforts to advance those mutually dependent interests,” a statement that might cause some people to wonder if Diamond ever read any of Porter’s editorials.
Old kid in an old town: A reliable source says Mark Woodward, recently retired executive editor of the Bangor Daily News, is returning to politics. Woodward, who once worked as press secretary for Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, is said to be joining the gubernatorial campaign of Steve Abbott, when Abbott joins the GOP field later this month.
Abbott is currently Collins’ chief of staff.
New math in the news: “The mountain is reporting that it is within 60 percent complete of its stated goals of doubling snow-making capability, while at the same time reducing energy costs by half.”
From a story by staff writer David Hart in the January 6 edition of the Original Irregular, a weekly newspaper published in Kingfield.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com.