MaineToday Media Stumbles With 'National Treasure'
Riskind watch: The MaineToday Media papers have been running house ads promoting Jonathan Riskind, their new Washington bureau chief, as a “national treasure.”
If that’s a reference to the wacky Nicolas Cage movie, it’s apt, because the MTM brass has so far employed Riskind in ways that are, like that flick, obscure and confusing.
Here’s a look at Riskind’s first full week on the job.
On Feb. 8, he wrote a short feature piece for the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel about one of the people injured when a chairlift at Sugarloaf collapsed in December.
Why would a reporter based in D.C. be assigned that story?
Well, the injured party, a Maine native, happens to be going to school in Baltimore. Apparently, the MaineToday editors felt that having one of the reporters who actually covered the accident call him on the phone wouldn’t be sufficient. Nor would basing the story around somebody else who got hurt, but who still lives in Maine. Nothing would suffice except pulling Riskind off his beat covering our congressional delegation to discuss life with a guy with moderate injuries and nothing very interesting to say about them.
Riskind then went quiet until Feb. 12, when he produced an article on the announcement by Tea Party leader Andrew Ian Dodge of Harpswell that he plans to challenge Republican U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe in 2012.
Dodge gave his statement in Washington, so it’s certainly appropriate that Riskind should cover him.
Except he didn’t.
The MTM bureau chief doesn’t appear to have been around when Dodge put out the word at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Riskind seems to have gotten his information from a Web site and filled out the piece with a couple of phone calls to Snowe’s office and Tea Party organizers. He had no first-hand quotes from Dodge.
The Bangor Daily News’ Kevin Miller covered the same story from Augusta without missing anything significant and with better background on Dodge, because Miller has actually met the guy.
Finally, on Feb. 13, Riskind gave MTM readers a story on a real issue of importance to Mainers: federal legislation to allow heavier trucks on interstate roadways.
With his Washington connections, Riskind could have explained why the Maine delegation was unable to prevent the law that temporarily allowed the big rigs on major highways from expiring last year.
Was it lack of clout? Was it lack of awareness?
He doesn’t say.
Was that lack of curiosity? Was that lack of courage to confront our senators and representatives over their seeming failure?
Perhaps it had something to do with not reporting this story from anywhere near the delegation. Riskind’s dateline is China – the one in Maine, the one within an easy drive of the newsrooms of the MaineToday daily papers. There, he discovers … well, nothing that hasn’t been reported before (in the past six months, I found at least six Bangor Daily News stories covering the same ground).
Maybe Riskind is still feeling his way. Maybe his editors haven’t quite figured out how to best employ him. Maybe this first week is a fluke.
But if at least one of those three isn’t the case, MTM is wasting its money and its readers’ time.
Good Ponte: Lance Tapley has never tried to hide his biases. Tapley, a freelance investigative reporter whose work usually shows up in the Portland Phoenix, is a liberal.
But he never lets that tilt get in the way of solid journalism.
Case in point: Tapley’s in-depth look at Joseph Ponte, Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s nominee for commissioner of corrections.
Tapley, whose thorough investigations into problems in Maine’s prison system have been praised here before, found that Ponte has a long history of dealing with – and in many cases fixing – just the sort of troubles this state’s corrections department has been unable to handle. That’s right, the conservative LePage may have hired a guy that meets with approval from an unrepentant liberal.
Political leanings aside, Tapley’s piece is the sort of hard look the Maine media should be taking at all of LePage’s nominees, focusing more on policy and less on personality and fluff.
(Disclosure: My weekly political column runs in the Phoenix.)
Notice on notices: The Maine Press Association is alerting its membership that there’ll likely be another attempt in the current Legislature to save money by doing away with the requirement that state legal notices be printed in newspapers.
Expect another round of self-serving editorials from said papers, claiming that putting this information online, instead, has something to do with the public’s right to know, transparency in government, and protecting our precious freedoms.
Don’t expect most editorial writers to be honest enough to admit it’s also about the money their employers make publishing those ads that hardly anybody reads.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com.