Who Needs News – Let’s Just Cover Ourselves
Packing it up – and in: In case you somehow missed it, the Portland Press Herald, over the weekend, moved its newsroom a couple of blocks. This event, officially announced months ago, was somehow deemed important enough to merit both a front-page story and a Bill Nemitz front-page column in the May 24 paper. Along with several photos, that barely left room out front for an uninformative piece about a murder early Sunday morning just outside the newspaper’s new home and an equally unimpressive profile of Republican gubernatorial candidate Les Otten.
What wasn’t in that day’s paper was much in the way of news.
The Press Herald did have another of its worthless puff pieces on traveling antique appraisers, another in a long series of public-relations stories for the local cops and another weekly dose of staff writer Ray Routhier’s lack of insight into other people’s jobs.
Maybe you think that’s worth seventy-five cents. I don’t.
Not major enough: The May 24 Kennebec Journal ran a story by staff writer Ethan Wilensky-Lanford on the Republican legislative primary race in Newport, Plymouth, Exeter, Corinna, and parts of Corinth.
The headline and the first sentence of the piece both inform readers that one of the candidates in an “Air Force major.” Other than eventually identifying the major as Ken Fredette – his name doesn’t even appear in the article until the twelfth paragraph – there’s no further discussion of this military matter.
Is Fredette on active duty? Reserves? Retired?
The story doesn’t say.
When did he serve? What did it teach him that might be useful as a legislator? Was his opponent also in the armed services?
If it wasn’t worth answering any of those questions, why was it worth a headline and first sentence?
(And shouldn’t both candidates’ names be mentioned up near the top of the story? It might make the piece look a little more balanced.)
Election fraud: Interesting feature by Matt Dodge in the May 22 Portland Daily Sun on how one local band stuffed the ballot box in last year’s Portland Phoenix Best Music Poll.
(Disclosure: My weekly political column runs in the Phoenix.)
Dodge uncovers the sophisticated methods one musician used to score well in that contest, putting in print what I suspect most people already knew: Victory in newspaper best-of polls is often more an indication of which entities are the most cyber-savvy, rather than which are the most popular.
Phoenix editor Jeff Inglis is frank about the ballot-box stuffing. “I tell everyone to vote early and vote often,” Inglis said. “I think it’s great people care enough about a poll, and are energetic enough to want to participate in that way.”
The bottom line: Best-of polls aren’t journalism. They’re promotions. As such, they should be handled by the sales department, not the news staff.
(A footnote: While the Daily Sun obviously put considerable effort into the poll story, the same can’t be said for its coverage of Pakistan’s consul general’s trip to Portland to visit a man detained in connection with the Times Square car bomb. On May 24, the paper ran an Associated Press story announcing that the consul was coming – even though he had been in the city the day before. The Press Herald had more up-to-date information, which – as noted above – is something of a novelty.)
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org