BDN Reporter Goes Over The Line Online
Boiling over and melting down: This past weekend, Bangor Daily News State House reporter Eric Russell got into a social-media mudslinging contest with Maine Heritage Policy Center executive director Lance Dutson. The original messages on Twitter and Facebook have since been deleted, but according to emails Dutson supplied, Russell reacted to Dutson’s complaint about how he was quoted in a story by using an off-color insult.
The flap began with Russell’s Dec. 10 story on a proposal by Republican Gov. Paul LePage to shield the executive branch’s working papers from the state’s right-to-know law. In the original version that appeared in print, Dutson makes comments that are generally supportive of the governor’s position, even though his conservative think tank has been a strong advocate for more open government. After the story appeared, Dutson and Russell apparently went at it on Twitter and Facebook, with Dutson complaining that Russell was a “hack” because he had not explained in his article that Dutson hadn’t yet seen LePage’s proposal. He also said Russell was supposed to have called him back for an updated quote once he’d had time to discuss the plan with his staff.
Russell responded by referring to Dutson as a “db,” which is Twitter shorthand for “douche bag.”
Dutson then contacted Russell’s bosses at the Bangor paper to complain, not only about that, but also what he perceived as a generally negative attitude toward his organization by the BDN. He said Russell had “a history of caustic interaction with our organization” and was “struggling to maintain impartiality.” He also claimed the paper had failed to respond when he and his staff notified it of errors and hadn’t reacted when he called to its attention fraudulent postings in his name on the Bangor Daily’s website.
Susan Young, the BDN’s managing editor of projects, emailed back saying she knew nothing of complaints or errors that had been ignored, but called Russell’s Twitter comments “inappropriate and not productive.” Bangor publisher Richard Warren went further. He said he was “dumbfounded.”
Russell then sent Dutson an email complaining about his communicating with Young and Warren, rather than contacting him directly. He said the outdated comments in the story were Dutson’s fault because he had failed to call Russell back. In an email sent a hour later, Russell promised to update his story online to reflect Dutson’s concerns (although no correction had appeared in the print edition as of Dec. 12). But he also maintained a combative tone, saying, “In the future … I likely will avoid seeking comment from the Maine Heritage Policy Center.”
Russell also insisted he was a “fair and objectionable (sic) journalist.”
By now, Mike Dowd, the Bangor paper’s editor in chief, had become involved, emailing Dutson to tell him he intended to “address your concerns” with Russell and Young.
A couple of hours later, Dutson got another email from Russell apologizing for his behavior. “I took things personally and I overreacted,” he wrote. “That kind of behavior was beneath me and not reflective of the Bangor Daily News.”
He also rescinded his threat not to contact the center for comment.
What impact, if any, this will have on Russell’s job remains to be seen. But in the Dec. 12 BDN, there was already some indication that his role has changed. A front-page story on the latest developments in the MaineHousing controversy was written not by Russell, but by former State House reporter Kevin Miller, possibly because of criticism both here and elsewhere of Russell covering the issue while his father works for the agency.
No coverage, please: On Dec. 9, Mark Robinson, a public-relations consultant, sent an email to print reporters and editors who cover Biddeford and Saco. Robinson asked them not to attend the first couple of hours of a Dec. 12 meeting scheduled between the top officials from the two cities “so that the participants can speak more freely.”
He then added, “So, to be blunt, both Alan [Casavant, mayor of Biddeford] and Mark [Johnston, mayor of Saco] are aware that they are asking you for a favor, to facilitate the beginnings of more positive interaction between Biddeford and Saco. That said, the two mayors are agreed that if any reporter insists on covering the entire meeting, well, the door will be open, although you’ll instantly change the dynamics of the meeting. Your call.”
I’ve probably heard of clumsier attempts at manipulating the media, but I really can’t remember when. I trust no one was gullible enough to be taken in by it.
Time to pay for The Times Record: The first Maine daily to set up a pay wall on its website will be The Times Record, the Brunswick p.m. paper. The TR made the announcement in its Dec. 9 edition,promising increased content online once the new system becomes operational later this week.
“Every story, photo, advertisement, news brief, column, comic and feature that now appears in print will be available online daily, effective Dec. 15,” the announcement said. “Honor rolls, police logs and other items that previously only appeared in print — and which readers asked us to post online — will be fully available on the upgraded website.”
The site will be free until Jan. 2, after which it will cost an annual fee of $89.99 for online access only or $9.99 for subscribers to the print edition.
Cheap radio: Radio-Info.com is reporting that the owners of the Portland Phoenix and other media properties have sold their last Maine radio station for a bargain price.
WPHX in Sanford (1220 AM), which has been silent recently, went to new owner Port Broadcasting for a mere $42,500. Earlier this year, the Mindich family, which owns the Boston Phoenix and WFNX in the Boston market, unloaded its York County FM station for a cool million.
(Disclosure: My weekly political column appears in the Phoenix.)
Even cheaper radio: If you want to work in radio, there are a few job around. But be prepared to get paid peanuts. According to the Radio-Info.com northern New England discussion board, Saga Communications is looking for someone to do mornings on WPOR, tape an overnight show on WYNZ and handle the music director’s duties for WMGX, all for $22,000 a year.
Or about half what an AM radio station in Sanford costs.
Al Diamon can be emailed at email@example.com.