Can Connor Back Up Claims About Portland Paper?
Rich comments: Richard Connor, the CEO of MaineToday Media, doesn’t like the way the news media covered last week’s announcement of buy-outs and possible layoffs at the Portland Press Herald.
That’s understandable. Nobody enjoys having bad news about his business spread around. But Connor, being a newspaper publisher, ought to know enough about public relations to recognize that using his Sept. 18 column in the Maine Sunday Telegram, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel to whine about the negative – but accurate – coverage does nothing to help his cause. And trying to boost his case with questionable claims is likely to erode his already shaky credibility.
Connor wrote that reporters managed to “miss some of the finer points” in informing the public that the Press Herald is getting rid of forty or more employees in the near future because of weak advertising revenue. That contradicts Connor’s earlier claims that his Maine papers were all profitable.
Connor goes on to state that reports the papers’ circulation is declining (information not contained in any of the coverage I saw) are false. “Our paid circulation has stabilized,” he wrote. “Our declining trends were among the worst in the newspaper business two years ago but now are among the best.” He goes on to say, “We’ve stemmed the losses, and we are reporting growth in several areas of paid circulation.”
It could be that the situation has changed since Audit Bureau of Circulations figures were released last spring. Those numbers showed higher-than-industry-average drops in paid circulation for the Press Herald and Telegram (Connor’s other papers don’t submit their numbers for auditing). New figures for all the papers from the U.S. Postal Service will be released next month. While they may be better than last year’s disastrous totals, it’s unlikely they’ll qualify as having “stabilized.”
No matter, according to Connor. That’s because the company’s online audience has “skyrocketed.” He wrote, probably correctly, that MaineToday’s combined web presence attracts more visits than any other news outlet, but then claims the Press Herald site “is the most popular and widely read media site, newspaper or television, in the state.”
Of course, Connor’s claims raise another question: If things are going as well as he says, why is he laying off people?
His answer: “There are times when we must take prudent action to stay ahead of the economic curve, which for now points downward.”
Translation: It ain’t my fault. It’s the economy, stupid.
Obit misappropriation: On Sept. 17, the Bangor Daily News ran Emmet Meara’s weekly column, a piece about the death of veteran Maine journalist Mike Brown.
It began well enough, with an amusing early 1970s anecdote about how the conservative and often-caustic Brown, then the editor of the Camden Herald, refused to hire Meara for a reporting job because he looked too much like a hippy. Meara then mentions some of Brown’s successful campaigns, such as cleaning up the chicken-processing plant’s pollution of Belfast’s harbor.
After that, he seems to run out of original material.
Much of the last third of the column is lifted almost verbatim from Brown’s obituary, published in several Maine papers.
Meara’s column: “After the Korean War, Brown sent a letter to the editor of Maine Coast Fisherman, using the pen name Cap’n Perc Sane. That began his 60-year journalism career and a monthly column continuing in that paper until his death. He wrote two books, “Saturday Cove” and “The Great Lobster Chase.” In more recent years, he became an independent columnist forming Hometown News Service, providing news to state newspapers covering state politics with a decidedly conservative bent from his office overlooking Penobscot Bay.”
From the obit: “After the war, a letter to the editor of Maine Coast Fisherman, using the pen name Cap'n Perc Sane, began his 60-year journalism career and a monthly column continuing in that paper until his death. Mike began as a newspaper reporter and later became editor of two local newspapers, The Republican Journal and Camden Herald. He authored two books, "Saturday Cove" and "The Great Lobster Chase." In more recent years, he became an independent columnist forming Hometown News Service providing news to various state newspapers covering state politics from his office overlooking Penobscot Bay.”
Meara: “Mike was fortunate enough to be invited by the South Korean government to participate in the 50th anniversary of the Korean War in 2005.”
The obit: “Later Mike was fortunate enough to be invited by the South Korean government to participate in the 50th anniversary of the end of that war in 2005.”
Meara: “He especially loved riding with his grandsons, Doug and Patrick, on the tugboats in Penobscot Bay and Portland his obituary reported.”
The obit: “He especially loved riding with his grandsons, Doug and Patrick, on the tugboats in Penobscot Bay and Portland.”
That mention of the obituary and a later “it was reported” don’t give a writer license to lift material from another source without using quotation marks. And even if it did, most of the apparent plagiarism lacks even that punctuated hint that the words aren’t Meara’s own.
Emails sent to Meara and Bangor Daily editor Mike Dowd asking for an explanation were not answered.
Printing press releases: Nearly as bad as swiping other people’s copy is the Lewiston Sun Journal’s practice of publishing publicity handouts as if they were news stories. It’s bad enough that much of the paper’s entertainment section is filled with this self-serving and barely edited stuff, but now the Sun Journal is using this approach to allow one of its reporters to sell his new book.
On Sept. 15, the paper ran a piece headlined “Reporter’s latest is 100-proof horror.” The article, which had no byline, describes in glowing terms the latest thriller by Sun Journal staff writer Mark LaFlamme. It’s lifted in large part – and without attribution – from LaFlamme’s website.
That’s not reporting. That’s lying to your readers by omission.
Public partnerships: Cash-strapped New Hampshire Public Television is talking to other public broadcasting entities in Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts about “collaboration,” according to Current.org.
The discussions seem most advanced with WGBH in Boston, but the story also quotes a NHPT official as saying more co-productions with the Maine Public Broadcasting Network are possible.
Earlier this year, NHPT lost thirty percent of its $8.8 million budget due to state funding cuts. As a result it had to lay off twenty employees.
MPBN was threatened with a similar cut in the last session of the Legislature, but escaped with a much smaller amount. The MaineToday Media State House bureau is reporting that additional reductions for public broadcasting could soon be recommended by a special budget panel now meeting in Augusta.
Money trouble: Lots of online speculation about the fate of Nassau Broadcasting’s ten Maine radio stations if the company is forced to liquidate its holdings to pay creditors, primarily Goldman Sachs, which is owed nearly $70 million.
Stuff worth checking out: The September issue of The Bollard has an interesting article by editor/publisher Chris Busby on the joys and pitfalls of nonprofit broadcasting at Portland radio station WMPG (90.9 and 104.1 FM). … The Bangor Daily’s Larry Mahoney covers WABI-TV’s curious decision not to broadcast the early parts of the men’s final match at the U.S. Open last week so as not to interfere with the lucrative 5 p.m. news. Columnist Ernie Clark followed up with a reprimand. … Political scientist, blogger and Bangor Daily columnist Amy Fried has a first-rate posting on the pitfalls of covering polls. My Downeast.com colleague Mike Tipping is making similar points. Must reading, and not just for political reporters.
Al Diamon can be emailed at email@example.com.