When a Press Release Pretends To Be News
Putting on Ayers: The Lewiston Sun Journal embarrassed itself and insulted its readers when it ran a story headlined “Author, activist to speak at UMF.” The unbylined piece, which appeared online on March 25 and in print on March 28, is actually a barely edited press release from the University of Maine in Farmington announcing a speaking engagement by William Ayers, described as an "[e]ducator, author and activist.”
That’s sort of like hosting a speech by Bernie Madoff and describing him as a stock broker and investment advisor.
As even the most cursory online search would have revealed, Ayers has been a controversial figure since the 1970s, when he helped found the Weather Underground and was involved in bombings at the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol. In the last presidential campaign, Barack Obama was criticized for having once attended a campaign event at Ayers’ home in Chicago. As recently as 2009, he remained persona non grata in Canada.
A real news story would have mentioned all that (for that matter, so would a real press release, unless the authors were afraid of stirring up controversy). For the Sun Journal not to provide more background was inexcusable.
If you can’t make more of a journalistic effort than that, go into television news.
Speaking of which: WCSH-TV in Portland has a new president and general manager. Steve Carter will take over the jobs at the Gannett Broadcasting station, after serving as vice president of marketing and promotion at Gannett’s Denver stations.
Carter replaces longtime GM Steve Thaxton, who moved to a similar position in Cincinnati. Thaxton had also held the post of general manager at Gannett’s Bangor station, WLBZ, but no announcement was made as to whether Carter will be getting that position, as well.
At Hearst-owned WMTW-TV in Portland, news director George Matz is departing after six years to become the assistant news director at Hearst’s Kansas City stations, KMBC and KCWE.
Matz begins his new gig on May 2. He’s well-respected in the industry and his departure appears to signal that Channel 8, a perennial also-ran in the southern Maine news ratings, will continue to serve as little more than a farm team for other Hearst stations around the country, rather than serious competition for WCSH and WGME.
As for the latter, Channel 13 is getting a new evening news anchor. She’s Adrienne Stein, until last week the morning anchor on the 24-hour news channel SNN 6 in Sarasota, Florida.
Hey, real news for a change: The March 27 Maine Sunday Telegram was notable for what it did and didn’t contain. In a break with recent tradition, it had some actual enterprising journalism in the form of staff writer Jenn Menendez’s excellent story on an NCAA probe of scholarships for hockey players at the University of New England. Menendez dug deep into questions about whether Division III UNE had improperly given financial aid to student-athletes and explored the consequences for the six players who lost $8,000 apiece per year in promised assistance.
As for what wasn’t in the Telegram this past weekend, the answer is any rewritten press releases and recycled stories by Washington bureau chief Jonathan “National Treasure” Riskind. The paper was better for his absence.
Al Diamon can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.