Maine Papers Miss The News – Again
Ten p.m. bedtime: MaineToday Media – owner of the Kennebec Journal, Morning Sentinel and Portland Press Herald – had reporter Tom Bell on duty on the evening of May 11 as the state Senate debated the health-insurance reform bill. When the legislation finally passed shortly after 10 p.m., Bell filed a detailed story.
The next morning, Bell’s story showed up in the Press Herald, both in print and online. But there was nothing in either medium from the Sentinel and KJ. It’s the second time in as many weeks that those papers have missed major breaking news that occurred after 10 o’clock. But at least in the previous instance, the two papers had put the news of Osama bin Laden’s death on their Web sites. This time, they didn’t bother. The staff went home for the night with nothing about the health care measure on the Sentinel’s site and a placeholder story (with no coverage of the debate or the results) on the KJ’s.
The next morning, nobody bothered to update the site until after I emailed editor Tony Ronzio to ask what was going on.
“I just posted the latest update,” Ronzio replied at 1:53 p.m., “which should have gone up this morning. I can't tell you why we didn't earlier. Nor can I tell you if the final version of that story was available to us by deadline, though I'm trying to find out.”
As for MaineToday’s frequent claim that it’s become a 24/7 news operation, all Ronzio had to say was, “We are, when we can be.”
Other newspapers have early-deadline problems, but seem to deal with them better than the KJ and Sentinel. The Bangor Daily News got an Associated Press story supplemented by material from reporter Kevin Miller into its first edition. The Lewiston Sun Journal had a piece by regional editor Scott Thistle that had the final vote wrong and didn’t mention the amendments that had been added to the bill, but at least noted its passage.
Both papers have deadlines only slightly later than the Waterville and Augusta dailies.
After missing the bin Laden story, Ronzio said he was working on a contingency plan to prevent such occurrences in the future. With the Legislature likely to be engaging in several late-night sessions between now and adjournment next month, he’d be wise to speed up his planning. Otherwise, there’ll be no point in relying on his papers – or his Web sites – for the latest news.
No public money for public broadcasting: A few thoughts on Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s decision to cut all state funding for the Maine Public Broadcasting Network from his budget. First, no matter what LePage says to the contrary, this looks like payback for MPBN’s aggressive coverage of his many blunders during last year’s gubernatorial campaign. If public radio’s news operation survives this 19 percent reduction in the network’s budget, it’ll be interesting to see how assertive MPBN will be in reporting on LePage in the future.
That conflict between journalism and finances is a major factor at every publicly funded news operation from National Public Radio to the BBC. Even if these reductions never become law, MPBN management would be wise to consider ways to reduce their dependence on taxpayer dollars and their vulnerability to bullying by politicians.
Second, as it has in the past, MPBN attempted to put some distance between itself and its coverage of the controversy by relying on Mal Leary of Capitol News Service for its story on the proposed cut. Even though Leary’s story contained a disclaimer noting his work for MPBN, this seems disingenuous. Leary has provided content for public radio and TV for decades and derives a significant portion of his income from them. He’s hardly a disinterested observer.
It might have been better if MPBN relied on an interview with a journalist from another news organization, such as the Press Herald’s Ray Routhier or the Bangor Daily’s Miller, which might have put a little distance between the coverer and the covered.
Third, the state’s newspapers made much of the MPBN controversy, but little of their own problem with LePage’s latest cuts. The May 12 Press Herald story by staff writer Susan Cover carries a headline mentioning the defunding of public broadcasting, but only notes in its final paragraphs that the governor wants to cut off payments for public notices in papers, a move that will cost the industry $200,000 a year.
At least, Cover had that information in her story. No other daily brought up that touchy subject, indicating they seem to have more trouble covering themselves than even MPBN does.
Victims ain’t always saints: Virtually all the state’s news organizations did a disservice to their readers, viewers and listeners in their coverage of the Krista Dittmeyer murder case.
Shortly after Dittmeyer’s car was found still running in a New Hampshire parking lot with her baby asleep inside, reporters became aware of her questionable background. The baby’s father was in jail on drug-dealing charges. He had been arrested in a Portland apartment he shared with Dittmeyer and claimed initially that the drugs belonged to her. It later came to light that she allegedly went to New Hampshire – with her young child – to deliver drugs.
It’s tough to speak ill of the dead, particularly when that person is a murder victim. But the news media have an obligation to tell the whole truth, even if it’s not pleasant. By sliding past the more unseemly aspects of Dittmeyer’s life, reporters and editors gave the public a false impression, not only of her, but also of the people who allegedly killed her. The edited version of the story made it seem as if she might have been killed at random, rather than because she was involved in illegal activity.
In no way am I blaming Dittmeyer for her own death, but I am saying the circumstances surrounding that death should have been more completely reported, rather than focusing on the memorials and interviews with friends that made her sound like someone she doesn’t seem to have been.
Web revival: Pine Tree Politics is back in business.
The political news Web site emerged as a prime source of information on campaigns and candidates in last year’s election, but stumbled after the departure of key contributors Matthew Gagnon and Derek Viger once the voting was over. Since January, the site has been quiet, with no new postings, until, that is, this past week, when Ryan McCabe took over the blogging.
McCabe is a Republican operative with close ties to conservatives such as unsuccessful congressional candidate Dean Scontras. Nevertheless, he promises to be “as critical of Republicans as I will be of Democrats and Independents.”
If his early posting on how swell the GOP health-reform plan is going to be and how Democrats plan to use a compliant media to demonize it are any indication, that claim may be met with some skepticism.
Al Diamon can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.