More MaineToday Monks Mess
Got conflict? I’ve mentioned this before.
When a news organization covers something involving one of its owners, it should disclose that information to readers so they have some chance of assessing whether the story is skewed.
The editors at MaineToday Media – publishers of the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel – don’t seem capable of grasping that concept. They continue to print stories about political events or business developments associated with Robert C.S. Monks of Cape Elizabeth, who is an investor in MaineToday and a member of its board.
The latest puff piece is in the Nov. 7 Press Herald and concerns an old mill in Sanford that one of Monks’ companies is redeveloping. Staff writer Kelley Bouchard never mentions Monks in the article, although a simple Google search would have turned up his name and connection to the project.
Was this sloppy reporting or a deliberate omission? The pattern seems to argue for the latter, but I can’t see how it much matters which is the case. It’s unacceptable either way.
More MTM departures: In the wake of MaineToday CEO Richard Connor’s resignation, I erroneously reported that Michelle Lester, MTM’s senior vice president for advertising, had been dismissed. It now appears my posting wasn’t so much wrong as premature. Lester departed the company last week, although the exact nature of her leaving remains murky.
Also gone, Kennebec Journal city editor Bob Mentzinger. It’s not clear whether his abrupt departure last week had anything to do with the unusual apology published in the KJ after the paper accidentally ran a year-old story on a local woman’s legal problems.
And free copies of the Press Herald’s weekly entertainment supplement GO are history. The company began distributing GO out of street boxes a couple of years ago, after closing down its alleged alternative paper Switch. (Disclosure: Switch was supposed to compete with the Portland Phoenix, which carries my weekly political column.) In a Nov. 3 column, Press Herald deputy managing editor Rod Harmon said the decision to end the giveaways was due to finances. “[W]e simply could not stay in the black,” Harmon wrote, “while the cost of printing the extra copies for free distribution ate our lunch.”
Connor continues: MTM CEO Connor wrote what seemed to be a farewell column after his ouster. But he isn’t officially gone until the end of the year, and in the meantime, he’s still got opinions he wants to express. Hence, his latest piece in the Nov. 6 MaineToday papers, in which he gives advice to his readers on how to vote on a gambling proposal on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Connor’s company is in financial trouble. His boards in both Maine and Pennsylvania have rejected him, his cronies and his management approach. Why on earth would anyone in his position believe the public would take his views seriously?
Oh, yeah, ego.
A footnote to the above: Connor’s competitors in the Keystone State continue to take pleasure in his downfall. The quote from P.T. Barnum at the beginning of rival publisher Matthew E. Haggerty’s column is particularly telling.
Unasked question: One of the biggest problems with those newspaper candidate profiles that only require office seekers to fill out a form expressing their vague opinions is that it’s easy for a politician to omit information that might not reflect well on him or her. Since there’s no follow-up, whatever the candidate writes is what gets printed. That’s rarely helpful for readers trying to decide how to vote.
Take James J. Tracey, a write-in candidate for the Auburn School Committee, for example. In a Nov. 5 quickie profile in the Lewiston Sun Journal,Tracey filled in the section asking about his political experience by saying he’d been involved in petition campaigns and had volunteered to help candidates. He didn’t say which ones, which might have been useful to know. He also neglected to mention that he ran for the state Legislature in South Portland in 1994, possibly because that candidacy was doomed by news reports that he was charged with rape in Rhode Island. Later that year, Tracey pleaded no contest to second degree sexual assault and was sentenced to five years of probation. Under a plea agreement, the felony charge would not show on his record if he successfully completed that sentence.
Seems as if that’s something a voter might want to know.
Something fishy: There’s investigative journalism. And then, there’s piggybacking on somebody else’s work and making it look like investigative journalism.
The Boston Globe recently published a major expose on restaurants that substituted cheaper species for expensive fish listed on their menus. The paper confirmed the misleading listings by having a lab test the DNA of the fish it purchased. Nearly half the 183 samples from 134 restaurants were phonies. It took two reporters five months to collect all the evidence.
On Nov. 7, the Lewiston Sun Journal tried to localize that story. But it didn’t try very hard. Staff writer Daniel Hartill spoke to one restaurant chef, one employee at a seafood retailer, one spokesman for a supermarket chain and somebody from a fish-sustainability project. Not surprisingly, they all said they never switch fish. Some of them said they’d heard that other people did, but the story doesn’t identify any of those shady types.
From that limited pool of information, an editor pulled out the headline, “Local markets’ fish is true.”
And how do they know that? Not from DNA testing, that’s for sure.
Houlton homeboy: Local radio isn’t quite dead, at least in Houlton. The Bangor Daily News reported last week that Houlton businessman Fred Grant is buying WHOU (100.1 FM) in Houlton and WBCQ (94.7 FM) in Monticello from County Communications, which has owned them since the mid-1990s. Among Grant’s first moves will be to restore local programming to the Houlton station, with an evening announcer already on board and a search underway for a morning host.
Good stuff: Colin Woodard strikes again. The freelance investigative journalist does some heavy lifting in the current issue of the Portland Phoenix (see above disclosure) to reveal the financial backers of the major candidates for mayor of Portland, including many who, due to lax legal standards for campaign finance reporting, would not otherwise have been exposed until after the election.
And with election day upon us, the Sardine Report explores the creative thought process that goes into those inevitable photos of people in voting booths.
“In addition to sacrificing their personal safety for the public’s ‘right-to-know,’” writes Sardine editor Chuck McKay, “photojournalists are not afraid to make aesthetic statements, expanding the boundaries of their field with artistic camera angles or lighting while they capture democracy’s most indelible moments.”
Al Diamon can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.