Deal: The Maine Legislature has approved a "shield law" for journalists, and Gov. John Baldacci is expected to sign the measure. The legislation allows reporters to refuse requests from law enforcement officials and the courts to identify confidential sources who provided information on illegal or improper activities. Originally, the bill would also have allowed news organizations to avoid divulging material they obtained from non-confidential sources, but that provision was stripped from the proposal in committee. The "shield" isn't absolute. It can be overridden if a judge determines the identity of a source is crucial to a lawsuit or criminal prosecution or if it's determined in court that there's an important public interest in having that information revealed. Next big question: Does this constitute special rights for journalists? If so, has anyone told the Christian Civic League's Michael Heath?
No deal: Odd that the mainstream media haven't bothered to report on the incomplete coverage of U.S. Rep. Tom Allen's news conference to promote an affordable housing initiative. According to the Web site As Maine Goes
, both WMTW-TV and WCSH-TV in Portland covered the early April event at which a young couple and a real estate broker spoke about the need for Allen-backed legislation to help first-time home buyers. There's some confusion as to whether Allen, who's running for the U.S. Senate, properly identified the couple as former campaign staffers and the broker as the wife of his chief of staff. But if he did, the two TV stations apparently didn't find that information important enough to share it with their viewers, rendering their stories slightly less honest than the average infomercial.
Deal: Nice work by Bangor Daily News reporter Diane Bowley in her April 17 story about a federal investigation of Patrick McGowan, Maine's commissioner of conservation
. Bowley relied on an anonymous - and somewhat shaky - source for her original tip that McGowan was suspected of using his plane to illegally help in a moose hunt. But she supplemented that information with numerous on-the-record interviews to provide as clear a report of what happened as seems possible at this time, particularly considering the feds wouldn't cooperate. I'm still not sure if McGowan is guilty of anything, but I am certain that few reporters in Maine would have dug this hard, and few news organizations would have devoted the necessary time and space to the effort. More of this, please.
No deal: The byline strike at the Morning Sentinel in Waterville continues (see "No names, please"), with the Portland Newspaper Guild attempting to increase the pressure on management. Among the union leaders who recently expressed support for reporters and other staffers who've been working without a contract since Jan. 31, 2006 is Dale Blethen, chief steward of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1837 and, not incidentally, a cousin of Frank Blethen, patriarch of the Blethen Maine Newspapers, which owns the Morning Sentinel. Since last December, reporters have been refusing to have their names appear on stories they wrote, so far without much effect on the stalled negotiations. According to the union, the dispute is over wages, outsourcing, reductions in sick time and the company's ability to transfer staff to its other papers in Maine, which include the Kennebec Journal in Augusta and the Portland Press Herald. With Blethen's Maine assets currently for sale, the Seattle-based company seems to have little incentive to make concessions, family ties or not.
No deal: Speaking of the impending Blethen sale, the deadline for serious bidders to submit preliminary information is April 18 (see "Updated: Deadline time for Blethen buyers"). One party that won't be making an offer is Portland developer Robert Monks. Monks has told associates he considered buying the papers, but backed off after deciding his interest was more emotional than financial.
Deal: Those of us lamenting the (possibly temporary) hiatus of the Pressing The Herald blog of the pseudonymous T. Cushing Munjoy can take some solace in Munjoy's frequent posts on another blog dedicated to criticizing the state's largest daily. Munjoy has leveled withering assessments of recent Press Herald articles on the site Portland Press Harried
. The blog is run by somebody who calls himself T. Flushing Funjoy, alleged by reliable sources to be an ex-Press Herald staffer. Funjoy's slams are often of the nit-picky variety, nastier and less constructive then Munjoy's, but his report on the paper's new Washington correspondent, Jonathan Kaplan, and his alleged biases contains some solid reporting and should give readers pause.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com