Kennebec Journal Races to the Top, Others Fail Test
Only one winner: For some time, Matthew Stone of the Kennebec Journal has been doing solid work covering the education beat.
The rest of the Maine news media? Not so much.
The considerable distance between Stone and his alleged competition was painfully obvious on July 27 and 28, as reporters put together stories on the state’s failure to qualify for federal Race to the Top funds. Stone’s article explained what happened, why it happened, and what the consequences might be. He included comments from state education officials, who downplayed their failure to win millions of dollars for schools, as well as the pointed observations of a prominent critic of Maine’s efforts.
While this hardly qualifies Stone for a Pulitzer Prize, it’s another example of his competent work. That mere competence is all it takes to stand out in the current field of local journalists speaks volumes.
The state’s other news outlets made little effort to cover what should have been an important story.
Maine Public Broadcasting Network offered a short piece, based mostly on an Associated Press brief, that spewed out the official line and nothing more.
Television stations did much the same, with WGME-TV in Portland preferring to devote most of its airtime to drug busts and “Fugitive File” reports. The nearest thing WCSH-TV in Portland had to Race to the Top results had to do with NASCAR.
The Bangor Daily News offered up a generic story (possibly an uncredited AP piece), while the Lewiston Sun Journal ran a truncated version of Stone’s KJ piece, with most of the important stuff left out.
The Portland Press Herald presented its readers with a mash-up, bylined “From staff and wire reports,” that read like it was produced by a public-relations agency employed by the Maine Department of Education. The Press Herald, which is owned by the same company as the KJ, had access to Stone’s piece, but used little of it. Instead, the editors decided to run an article explaining how great the state’s application was, how much of it would be implemented in spite of the rejection, and how Maine had lots of other great programs for schools.
No explanation for why the state failed to qualify.
No comments from critics.
As Stone reported (but no one else mentioned), Maine’s score in the competition and its rating among the states won’t be released by the feds until September. It’ll be interesting to see if anybody (besides Stone) bothers to cover that and, maybe, ask a few hard questions of education bureaucrats about what went wrong.
Digging into the pension disaster: Once again, the non-profit Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting is doing outstanding work on an important topic that has been dealt with only superficially by most news outlets.
John Christie, the center’s senior reporter, has embarked on a multi-part series on the crisis in the state retirement system, pointing out in stark detail how its unfunded liability and constitutional requirements to cover that cost in the near future threaten Maine’s fiscal health. Christie’s initial piece explains the problem in clear and easily understandable language. It’s head and shoulders above anything else published to date on this topic. Subsequent installments will look at how the state got into this mess, what the implications are for retirees, and how the shortfall could be dealt with.
Must-reading for anyone concerned about Maine’s future.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org