Covering Congdon – Or Not - As Local Maine News
Missing the story: There was one reporter in the room on April 1, when then-Commissioner of Economic and Community Development Philip Congdon made his controversial remarks to the Caribou Chamber of Commerce.
She just didn’t write a story about it.
Natalie Bazinet is a staff writer for the Aroostook Republican and News. Bazinet covered the event, but the only part of the proceedings that made it into print was her report on the awards banquet. She included nothing about Congdon’s alleged racist comments, his disparaging remarks about northern Maine and his suggestion, confirmed by multiple sources in news reports, that if Aroostook County residents wanted jobs, they should, “Get off the reservation.”
After Gov. Paul LePage received complaints about those comments, he accepted Congdon’s resignation.
Asked about the omission of the commissioner’s remarks, Republican editor Mark Putnam admitted the error. “I think you’re trying to say we missed the boat,” Putnam said in a phone interview, “and you can say that.”
He said that like many small weeklies his paper hires relatively inexperienced reporters and immerses them in all aspects of the publishing business, from covering stories to laying out the pages. He said Bazinet had only been in the business a couple of years and did not have a journalism school background.
“She went to the chamber dinner with a purpose, to cover the awards,” Putnam said. “I can see how this happened …. She should probably have run it by someone else before deciding it was not a news story.”
Putnam said he’s discussed the incident with Bazinet, and she won’t be disciplined. He said she’s currently reviewing her notes and plans to write a story on what Congdon said for next week’s paper. Unfortunately, he said, a recording she made of the speech has since been recorded over.
“That’s where we learn our lessons,” Putnam said, “on the front lines.”
As for reporters who’ve already done a lot of lesson-learning, on April 29, both Steve Mistler of the Lewiston Sun Journal and Kevin Miller of the Bangor Daily News did their usual fine jobs of advancing the story by getting Congdon on the record stating he’d been misquoted.
It’ll be interesting to see how that claim matches up with Bazinet’s first-hand piece next week.
Editors on the move: There’s a new editor at the Portland Daily Sun.
The two-year-old free paper’s news content will now be the responsibility of David Carkhuff, formerly a reporter at the Sun and for some time what outgoing editor Curtis Robinson calls, “the de facto news editor.” Casey Conley, who had worked at the paper as a reporter in the past, will be returning as city editor. Matt Dodge, who had been working as a freelancer at the Sun, will now be a fulltime reporter.
As for Robinson, he’ll continue to write a column and “focus on special projects,” according to the official release. Asked what that meant, Robinson said, “I’m a bit of a long-form freak myself. The daily grind doesn’t lend itself to that.
“My intention is there are two or three long-term stories I’ve wanted to do. I’ll also be able to go to Augusta and sit in on hearings.”
Asked how the paper might change under Carkhuff’s leadership, Robinson said he expects it to become “a bit newsier with a bit less trend coverage. He’s a little bit more hard news than I am.”
Meanwhile at Augusta’s free paper, the Capital Weekly, there’s also been an editorial change. Stephanie Grinnell has replaced Beth Staples.
Grinnell, a former reporter for the Biddeford-Saco-Old Orchard Beach Courier and the Forecaster and editor of the online Maine Point, had most recently been the copy manager at the Republican Journal in Belfast. Staples will be taking over Grinnell’s old job. Both papers are owned by Village Soup.
(Disclosure: My weekly political column runs in the Village Soup papers.)
Al Diamon can be emailed at email@example.com.