The labor conflict at the Morning Sentinel is turning ugly. The Portland Newspaper Guild, which represents newsroom staff at the Blethen Maine Newspapers-owned daily in Waterville, issued a press release on April 28 describing a "deteriorating situation" at the paper. According to the union, negotiations on a new contract are "not progressing," and "the company is now threatening to terminate the Collective Bargaining Agreement altogether," in effect, refusing to recognize the union. Guild members at the Sentinel have been working without a contract since January 2006 and have been protesting the company's alleged indifference by withholding their bylines since last December. The dispute centers on pay hikes, outsourcing and benefits, according to the union. The release warned that the Guild will "soon begin contacting advertisers and running advertisements calling public attention to our plight." Morning Sentinel President John Christie, in a statement to Editor & Publisher on April 28, wrote in part: "The current contract, which is still in effect, anticipates the possibility that at some point the parties cannot agree on a new contract. In the event, we are allowed to notify the Guild of our intent to terminate the contract. A letter to that effect was sent to the Guild on April 18. However, there is time between now and June 1 to reach an agreement. A bargaining session has been scheduled for May 7. At that time, we hope the Guild will recognize that, given the state of the newspaper industry, our offer is reasonable and fair." The Sentinel and its sister papers, the Portland Press Herald and Kennebec Journal, are for sale, and the company has said it hopes to complete a deal with new owners by the end of the year.Missing the beat:
The Kennebec Journal in Augusta finally noticed the controversy surrounding Maine Conservation Commissioner Patrick McGowan - 10 days after the Bangor Daily News broke the story. On April 27, the KJ ran a front-page
story on a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service investigation of McGowan for allegedly using his plane to illegally aid a moose hunter. The piece contained far less information than the Bangor paper's April 17
story, in particular skipping most of the evidence against McGowan. You have to wonder why the KJ even bothered.Skipping a few notes:
The Portland Press Herald has never done a good job covering itself (what news outlet does?), but the PPH's April 25 story on the Maine Supreme Judicial Court's unanimous ruling against the paper
stood out from its usual mediocre efforts - and not in a good way. That's because the story contained not a single quote from the justices' decision defining the limits of the state's right-to-know law. The Press Herald had sued the Portland School Committee seeking notes the committee's lawyer and two members made during a July executive session. The paper contended the school board used the closed-door meeting, which was supposed to be limited to reviewing personnel issues, to discuss budget matters. A lower court had agreed with the Press Herald and ordered the documents made public, but the justices found otherwise, deciding the session was legal and the notes were private. The PPH got reaction to the decision from all parties - "a frightening interpretation," according to the paper's lawyer - but didn't bother to use any of the court's actual words
, which might have offered readers some less frantic perspective. I'm a firm advocate of open meetings, but Justice Robert Clifford's reasoned conclusions are tough to argue with. Must reading for journalists and anyone who cares about government transparency.Just tuning up:
It's hard to believe, but WERU-FM in Orland turns 20 years old on May 1. The community station - begun mostly with volunteers and the support of folkie Noel Paul Stookey - has grown from its early days housed in a Blue Hill chicken barn to become a Maine broadcast institution. Today, the station boasts 11 employees and about 150 volunteers, but still features an adventurous mix of programming, all of it chosen by the people who host the shows. WERU is holding an open house at its Route 1 studio on May 1 starting at 1 p.m., with live music, tours, a potluck dinner and an on-air open mike. If you can't make it, check out the action at weru.org
or at 89.9 FM in Blue Hill and 102.9 FM in Bangor.New tune:
Speaking of maverick radio, North East Radio Watch
is reporting that Bob Bittner, owner of listener-supported WJIB in Cambridge, Mass., has purchased WWBK in Brunswick from Atlantic Coast Radio - that's JJ Jeffrey's company - for the remarkable price of $27,000. The AM station (900 on the dial) has been simulcasting an all-sports format from Jeffrey's WJJB in Westbrook, but Bittner says it will soon offer music, instead. What kind of music? He would only say it won't be the same stuff as his other Maine station, WJTO in Bath, which programs music for people who stopped liking music after 1960 or so.Looking for an encore
: A reliable source in the newspaper industry says several staffers at the Press Herald expect to be fired before the year is out, either to clear payroll before a new owner takes over or because they've been annoying to the current management. Another source, this one from the political world, confirmed that at least two prominent potential candidates for governor in 2010 have had discussions with Press Herald journalists about hiring them as campaign press secretaries. Until their future employment sorts itself out, that situation leaves lots of room for conflicts of interests to develop every time the paper assigns a story on the gubernatorial race. Musical bliss: This is probably stretching the definition of the kinds of media I'm supposed to write about (maybe the editor won't notice, way down here at the end of this posting), but you should rush out and get yourself a copy of the new CD "Greetings From Area Code 207, Volume 7." Twenty-one tracks by the best of the local roots, pop and rock music scenes, for just $10.97, with all proceeds going to the St. Lawrence Arts Center on Portland's Munjoy Hill (stlawrencearts.org ). The Lomax doing "Lewiston Kids" is worth the price all by itself, but you'll also get great unreleased cuts from Darien Brahms ("Appetite"), Sara Cox ("Call for Arms"), Ray Lamontagne (a live version of "Be Here Now") and As Fast As ("Bigger Than Both Of Us"). If you don't own it, you're less cool than WJTO.
- Filed April 28, 2008
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org .