Down East 2013 ©
Missing names: It all depends on how you go about it. When the Portland Press Herald gave buyouts t o seven reporters in late June, it got plenty of attention. Understandably so. By the time the early departures, layoffs and resignations were completed, the paper had reduced its reporting staff by nearly one quarter.
At the Bangor Daily News, the erosion in the newsroom is less noticeable, but it could soon be nearly as extensive. The latest reporter to leave is Toni-Lynn Robbins. If the paper follows recent trends, she won’t be replaced. When Anne Ravana jumped to Maine Public Radio a couple of months ago, no new reporter was hired to take her place.
One reason the loss of experienced journalists hasn’t been as apparent at the BDN as at the Press Herald may be because many familiar names still turn up in the Bangor paper – as columnists or freelancers. Former staffers Kristen Andresen,  Renee Ordway, Beumond Banville and Emmet Meara  all continue to contribute to the paper, but the BDN doesn’t have to contribute to their health care, retirement fund or workers’ comp.
Sweet deal, financially. And it doesn’t hurt in the public-relations department, either.
Remembered name: They hauled the furniture out of the Press Herald’s State House office this past week. The bureau was one of four closed as part of the same round of cutbacks mentioned above. But the paper’s glory days of covering state government were vividly recalled on July 17 in an op-ed column by Kay Rand in the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. 
Rand, once the chief of staff for former Gov. Angus King, lamented the decimation of the Augusta press corps (now down to four or five people, from a high in the early 1990s of more than a dozen). But Rand is less concerned about numbers and more worried about quality.
“If we rely on the media to provide the information that we need to make our democracy work,” she writes, “what would it portend if all our daily newspapers could no longer employ skeptical reporters to probe for honest information because of declining advertising revenues?”
Her example of quality coverage: Nancy Perry, former Press Herald State House ace, who’s been gone from those hallowed halls for more than a decade. Rand quotes one of her colleagues in the King administration as saying being interviewed by Perry was like “chewing on tinfoil.” Rand’s own take: “Perry was one of those reporters who dug deep for information and she wasn’t carrying anyone’s water other than her desire to know as much as anyone else about the state budget. She wasn’t partisan, she wasn’t pursuing a pre-conceived story and she didn’t sensationalize a story in search of a Pulitzer Prize.”
As a rookie State House reporter, I got to watch Perry work for several years. Rand’s right. We haven’t been safe from the politicians and bureaucrats since she left.
Returning name: Back in 2005, a college kid named Mike Tipping ran a blog called “Maine Politics,” which contained a lot of information that didn’t turn up anyplace else. Tipping’s work was distinctly left-leaning, but unlike the current crop of knee-jerk Democratic blogs and campaign attack sites, he never hesitated to take errant liberals to task. If he thought the Republicans had it right, Tipping said so. After several months of scoops and hate mail (mostly from Dems), Tipping gave up the blog, citing the pressures of school work and his pending ejection into the real world.
Now, “Maine Politics”  is back, and it’s as good as ever. Tipping’s take on how GOP U.S. Sen. Susan Collins stole the news-coverage thunder from Democratic challenger Tom Allen on recent endorsements by education groups is not only astute about politics, but sharp on the media angle, as well.
“There have been many complaints of media bias towards Collins,” he writes. “With the recent cutbacks at news outlets, however, bias isn't even required. All that's needed is overworked reporters and a campaign with some decent media manipulation skills.”
Similar name: “Media Mutt” isn’t the state’s first canine communications critic. A long-time contributor to the As Maine Goes Web site has been using the name “mediadog ” since this pooch was a pup. “Mediadog” has a distinct right-wing bias in many of his critiques, but he (or she) knows his (or her) stuff and is usually barking up the right tree. A good example was this recent posting about WGME-TV in Portland and its July 15 and 16 11 p.m. newscasts.
According to the “dog,” the station claimed the recent destruction at a shipyard in Boothbay was “the biggest fire ever to take place in Maine.” It wasn’t. As Channel 13 noted the next evening, several forest fires were larger. What wasn’t mentioned was that the station got it wrong the previous night.
There’s lots more, all of it leading to “mediadog’s” conclusion that WGME needs “a shot of valium before it chokes on its own hype.”
Throw him a bone.
And a few numbers: The front-page story in the July 18 Portland Press Herald headlined “Banks in Maine avoiding problems”  reads like it was written by the local financial industry’s advertising department
Everything is swell in this state, readers are told by reporter Ann S. Kim. Foreclosure rates are a fraction of what they are nationally. And there’s more good news: “Maine banks are also benefitting (sic) from the fact that the state has not gone through significant declines in real estate values,” according to a local bank president.
That depends not only on how you spell “benefiting,” but also on how you define “significant.” It also depends on whether the Press Herald got its math right in this story or in previous ones.
Let’s start with foreclosures. Kim says one in every 501 U.S. homes got a foreclosure notice in June, but in Maine the rate was just one in 2,504. In a June 25 story, the Press Herald reported Maine’s foreclosure rate was at 2.71 percent, while the national rate was 2.45 percent. On March 25, the paper said foreclosures in Maine had doubled in the period from December 2006 to December 2007.
As for prices, that’s a matter of interpretation. While the median price of a single family home nationally dropped by 6.8 percent in May, compared to 5.7 percent in Maine (according to a June 28 Press Herald story), I’m not prepared to write that local decline off as insignificant. And I’m not inclined to accept that one month as definitive. In April, Maine’s median price was down over 11 percent (my source is a Press Herald story headlined “Home price erosion surges in Maine” published on May 28).
Is there a real reporter in the house?
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org .