Down East 2013 ©
It would be unrealistic of me to have expected major changes in the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal or Morning Sentinel in the two weeks since new owner Richard Connor and his MaineToday Media took over the newspapers.
So, call me unrealistic.
I thought Connor would arrive with some sort of journalistic plan. It now seems obvious he showed up with a blueprint for the business end of things, but has left the drafting of changes to the newspapers’ contents to whatever haphazard assortment of loudmouths happens to catch his attention at any given moment.
As he explained in his June 28 column, he’s approved modest changes to the front-page design, based on a reporter’s comment.  He’s taken a bunch of suggestions from a guy who works in the pressroom and his brother. And he’s publishing a lot more photos.
As he put it, “I’ve never known anyone – except maybe someone wearing handcuffs and an orange prison jumpsuit – who didn’t enjoy having their picture in the paper – and seeing their friends’ and neighbors’ photos in the paper.”
To that end, Connor has instituted a feature in the Press Herald (the other papers haven’t yet been cursed with it) called “Snapshot,” which consists of a bunch of photos. On June 26, it was pictures of some Press Herald advertisers standing around at a reception sponsored by the paper.
Interesting for those involved? Maybe. Interesting to anybody else? Probably not.
On June 27, “Snapshot” featured people participating in Take Your Dog to Work Day. Almost half the people shown with their pooches worked for Connor. None of the photos was impressive. And I’m a dog guy.
The June 29 edition covered the zombie kickball game in Portland. Even with such a meaty subject (heh), staff photographer Jill Brady came up with only one memorable shot, that of a zombie crawling hungrily toward home plate. As with previous editions of “Snapshot,” most of the rest were of people standing around doing nothing (except, unlike the advertisers, these people were covered in fake blood). There simply weren’t enough compelling pictures to justify the space devoted to this feature.
“Snapshot” doesn’t seem to be included in the online version of the paper. In fact, lots of stuff that used to be on the Web site isn’t there anymore. Gone is the Sunrise Herald, a lame attempt at morning traffic reports and news updates. Gisell Goodman, who used to write that feature, will now go back to work for the print edition, where, according to her final Sunrise posting, she’s supposed to be “writing stories about interesting people and happenings.”
Isn’t that what every reporter at a newspaper is supposed to do?
Also getting the online ax is “The Front Porch,” former editor Jeannine Guttman’s feeble attempt at creating a blogging site. 
At its best, it made even “Snapshot” look good.
One more online change: The Press Herald has stopped, either intentionally or due to lack of oversight, consistently running corrections on the Web. A June 25 story that erroneously claimed a convicted drug dealer had been the first student trustee on the University of Maine board – he was a student trustee, but not the first – merited a June 27 correction in print, but nothing online. And in a break from long-standing PPH policy, the e-version of the story wasn’t fixed, so, as of this afternoon, it still features the wrong information in its first sentence.
Sloppy editing isn’t limited to the Web. In the tradition of the pre-Connor administration, the Maine Sunday Telegram continues to run stories that desperately need more and better reporting and significant rewriting. Take, for example, the June 28 piece by staff writer Jenn Menendez on the alleged revival of the Maine harness racing industry, thanks to taxes paid by the Hollywood Slots racino in Bangor. 
While much of the article is devoted to how drivers, owners and breeders are all benefiting from the $21 million in subsidies from the gambling industry, only the final few paragraphs mention that public interest in the sport continues to decline, in spite of more horses and larger purses. It should have occurred to somebody at the paper to ask whether it makes sense in a time of declining state resources to pour such large sums into an enterprise that can’t attract paying customers.
I realize Connor has to devote most of his attention to the business side of the newspapers in order to avoid having them go the way of the harness-racing industry. But somebody at MaineToday Media needs to start focusing on the core product and its deficiencies. And soon.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com.