Information Debt on Maine’s Bonded Debt
Coverage deficit: So many reporters, so little information.
The depleted State House press corps turned out in force on March 2 to cover a news conference by Democratic legislative leaders announcing a $99 million “jobs bond” they want to send out to voters later this year. All Maine’s morning daily papers had stories on the borrowing plan. And not one of them managed to answer an obvious question raised by some opponents.
Most of the stories mentioned the Maine Heritage Policy Center’s objections to the bond issue. In a press release put out shortly after the Democrats’ announcement, the center quoted its executive director as saying the borrowing package would “bury Maine families underneath a greater mountain of public debt.”
The aforementioned obvious question: How much debt?
The center’s release is of little help, since it cites a figure that includes not only voter-approved borrowing, but facilities bonds and deficits in the state retirement system. What most voters would probably like to know is how much bonded indebtedness does the state have now, and how much is scheduled to be paid off this year.
Nobody bothered to find out.
TV and radio stations relied on a sketchy Associated Press story that provided so little information as to be useless.
Capitol News Service’s Mal Leary supplied the coverage for the Bangor Daily News.
Leary ignored both the center’s criticism and the size of the state’s bonded debt, turning out a less-than-adequate piece that skimmed the surface of the story.
MaineToday Media’s Susan Cover produced the article featured in the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal, and Morning Sentinel.
Cover gave the center’s release some ink, but didn’t delve any further into the issue it raised.
The best effort came from the Lewiston Sun Journal’s Rebekah Metzler, who did a solid job of explaining not only what was in the bond, but also how it would affect her newspaper’s coverage area. Metzler’s was the only story to mention that Moody’s Investor Service had rated Maine in late January as having “below average debt levels.” That’s useful information, but it could have been made more complete by including the exact amount of those debt levels.
Gov. John Baldacci is releasing his own bond proposal next week, so maybe that’ll inspire somebody to do that extra little bit of digging that results in a story that actually helps people make up their minds.
Misleading logo: I’ve complained about this before, apparently to no avail. But I’m nothing if not stubborn.
The March 3 Portland Press Herald carried a Bangor Daily News story by staff writer Meg Haskell about a legislative public hearing on a bill to require warning labels on cell phones.
Even though the article wasn’t produced by a reporter at the Portland paper or any of its corporate cousins at MaineToday Media, an editor labeled the piece with the “MaineToday Media State House Bureau” logo.
Oddly enough, the logo doesn’t appear on a story in the same issue about designating energy corridors in the state, even though that piece actually did come from one of the company’s Augusta reporters.
No shame: Richard Connor is starting to scare me. The publisher/editor of the MaineToday Media papers has pushed self-promotion to new levels with a story on page one of the Local section of the March 2 Press Herald headlined “Real estate changes ahead.”
The piece by staff writer Dennis Hoey (who ought to be embarrassed to have his name on it) deals not with the property market, but with Connor’s announcement, at an event supposedly intended to promote Maine restaurants, that the newspaper was reformatting its real estate advertising section and lowering rates.
In the print edition, the article was accompanied by six photos of local real estate agents enjoying Connor’s hospitality.
None of that is news. If it were, the Press Herald would regularly cover announcements by competing news outlets when they offered special deals on ads.
None of that deserves to take up space that’s normally occupied by news. If Connor wants to promote his paper as an advertising vehicle, he should use advertising space to do it. If he wants his own lame pronouncements (“How can you beat that?”) recorded for posterity, I suggest he buy a diary.
Nobody should pay 75 cents for a newspaper that contains this sort of junk.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com