Maine House Speaker Coverage: Great to Worthless
Speaking about the speaker: On Nov. 18, the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting and reporter Steve Mistler of the Lewiston Sun Journal combined on an excellent package of articles on the financial and professional problems of Republican Robert Nutting of Oakland, soon to be the new speaker of the Maine House of Representatives. The coverage was balanced and fair, with Nutting’s supporters given an entire sidebar to make their case.
Mistler, as well as the center’s John Christie and Naomi Schalit, did more than regurgitate Nutting’s carefully staged press briefing. They dug deep into the background of his $1.6 million in Medicaid over-billing and uncovered a current issue, as well.
In contrast, the coverage in other papers, such as the Kennebec Journal, seemed superficial and/or poorly edited (the piece claims Nutting’s pharmacy closed in 2003, but didn’t file for bankruptcy and lay off its employees until 2004, a confusing and unlikely timeline).
As for TV coverage, about all it added to the story was proof that the camera doesn’t love the new speaker.
Please explain Cain: I’m wondering what was going through the minds of the editors at the Portland Press Herald as they prepared the Nov. 19 edition of the paper. For some reason I can’t fathom, they decided to place their coverage of the choosing of a new minority leader in the Maine House of Representatives above the fold on page one.
Democratic state Rep. Emily Cain of Orono won the nearly powerless post over two rivals, an event that in previous years would have merited coverage in the second section, perhaps as a news brief.
That’s how the paper covered the selection of the state Senate minority leader on Nov. 11. When Republican state Rep. Joshua Tardy of Newport became minority leader in 2006, the Press Herald ran the wire service story on page B2. In 2004, when GOP state Sen. Paul Davis got the job, the staff-written story ran on the front of the local section. In 2002, even the choice of a new Democratic speaker of the House wasn’t newsworthy enough to make page one.
Why the big change this year? This decision will certainly fuel claims by right-wingers that the Portland paper has a leftist slant.
The ineptly edited Lewiston Sun Journal also ran Cain’s election out front, but that seemed to be more about a lack of staff-produced stories than because it rated the space. Cain lives in the circulation area of the Bangor Daily News, but the piece only made the top of that paper’s state section.
The Press Herald’s sister paper, the Morning Sentinel, carried the same story by reporter Susan Cover as the Portland paper, but placed it in the local section. But the Sentinel’s editors still deserve a rap on the knuckles, since the sub-headline in the print edition tells readers that state Rep. Sharon Treat of Hallowell is the new minority whip. In reality (and in the story), Treat lost to state Rep. Terry Hayes of Buckfield.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com.