Signs of Improvement at MaineToday Media
The Schechtman effect: Something has changed at the MaineToday Media newspapers, particularly the Portland Press Herald. It was apparent over the past week in the thorough, thoughtful and timely coverage of U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe’s decision not to seek re-election, and that attitude appears to be seeping into other areas of the paper. This fresh approach doesn’t seem to be originating with the reporters – they’re the same ones who’ve been slogging along as the company teetered on the brink of bankruptcy for the past several months – so the difference must be coming from the editorial office.
Since Cliff Schechtman replaced Scott Wasser last month as executive editor, the Press Herald has been showing signs of life. Jonathan Riskind, the paper’s previously anemic Washington correspondent, showed flashes of real initiative in reporting on Democratic Party pressure on 2nd District U.S. Rep. Michael Michaud to drop his potential Senate candidacy and run for re-election. No other news outlet had that angle. It’s been a long while since that could be said about any political story in the Portland paper.
Reporter Tom Bell (who’s usually tenacious in getting all the details), assisted on that scoop and several others. State House scribe John Richardson did fine work putting Snowe’s concerns about polarization in Congress in perspective. Staff writer Ed Murphy, who’s been displaying signs of burn out for months, seemed like his old self. And reporter Beth Quimby stepped up her game putting some hard news in what could have been (and under Wasser, probably would have been) a soft feature on signature gathering.
Not only that, but the MaineToday papers are routinely including a disclaimer in all political stories about Donald Sussman’s ownership in the company. Sussman is a major donor to liberal causes and candidates, and is married to Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree. The company had previously appeared reluctant to mention possible conflicts of interest involving its minority owners, particularly developer and Democratic donor Robert C.S. Monks. It remains to be seen how extensive this ethical shift is, but so far, it’s encouraging.
I’m told by several sources that the credit for these improvements is directly attributable to Schechtman, who’s been given a free hand on the journalistic side of the operation by interim CEO Neil Heyside. I can only hope that once a permanent CEO is hired, that style of management continues and expands to the dreary pages of MaineToday’s other dailies, the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel, where half-hearted efforts still abound under editor Bill Thompson, a leftover from the era of deposed CEO Richard Connor.
MaineToday has a long, tough road to travel to restore itself to profitability and credibility. The Snowe coverage was a good first step in dealing with the latter. Schechtman’s influence shows early signs of being a major factor in keeping the papers on track to do both.
Guild-ed coverage: For a fascinating – and obviously biased – look at the behind-the-scenes maneuvering that resulted in the collapse of the 2100 Trust’s attempt to buy MaineToday, followed by the Portland Newspaper Guild’s desperate effort to convince Sussman to invest in the papers, check out this report from the union.
Al Diamon can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.