Down East 2013 ©
Who’s paying attention? On Oct. 10, the Portland Press Herald ran this headline over a story by Washington Post reporter Jason Horowitz on national reaction to a controversial issue on this state’s November ballot:
“Gay-marriage question gets little notice outside Maine.”
Horowitz reported that the local debate “remains practically a secret nationally.  With low-volume murmurs of support from the institutional advocates and opponents of gay marriage, Maine’s operatives, on both sides of the issue, are curious to find themselves nearly alone before an election that will determine the national gay-rights agenda.”
Horowitz backs up this assertion with quotes from several experts, both in Maine and elsewhere.
One day later, at the Press Herald’s sister paper, the Kennebec Journal, staff writer Susan Cover produced a piece under this headline :
“MAINE IN SPOTLIGHT: Many throughout United States watching as Maine voters cast ballots on gay-marriage issue.”
The article offered no substantial evidence of national interest in the local referendum, other than the opinions of some Maine political scientists.
The Bangor Daily News did a better job in its Oct. 10 story  headlined, “Question 1: Nation watches as Maine voters contemplate, Who Can Marry?”
Staff writer Kevin Miller got some activists from out of state on record stating the importance they attach to the Maine vote. So maybe they do care, after all.
The net result is still confusion.
Speaking of which, there was an excess of the stuff in the Lewiston Sun Journal’s Oct. 11 editorial on same-sex marriage .
In a sharp turn from the Sun Journal’s usual straight-forward approach to controversy, this wimpy mess tiptoes around the issue (“The people should decide”) without ever taking a comprehensible stand on which side it supports. But after several paragraphs of on-the-one-hand-on-the-other nonsense, the piece does come close to taking a position:
“Our preference on marriage would be the status quo; this is what we believe about the institution.”
And which status quo would that be? Limiting marriage to one man and one woman? Or keeping the law that permits same-sex unions? The editorial gives readers no clue. Maybe the writer could ask some of those national experts, who either are or aren’t paying attention to Maine, to help them form a real opinion.
Myers moves out: George Myers, city editor of the Morning Sentinel in Waterville, has resigned effective October 16, according to several sources at the paper. The announcement was made to staffers last week and was characterized as a retirement. Myers was a holdover from the Blethen family ownership, but it’s not clear if there was pressure from new owners MaineToday Media to force him to quit. Attempts to reach Myers were unsuccessful.
Until the Sentinel can hire a new city editor, the job will be filled by Bill Thompson, the Texas transplant recently hired to be the editorial-page editor of both the Waterville daily and the Kennebec Journal in Augusta.
News service revives: Statehouse News Service is back in business – part-time. Lorie Costigan, the former editor of this Web site, is producing a couple of stories a week from Augusta, reviving the cooperative news organization that provides coverage to a half-dozen weeklies and the daily Times Record in Brunswick.
Statehouse has been on hiatus since August, when its sole reporter, Christopher Cousins, left to join the Bangor Daily News.
Unlike Cousins, Costigan won’t be covering the beat fulltime from an office at the capitol. Alan Baker, publisher of the Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander, said reducing the number of stories the service offered worked better for weeklies with relatively small news holes. “Plus,” Baker said, “we’re all a little tight for money. We’re still anxious to cover Augusta, but this was an opportunity to downsize a tad.”
Down bound: According to its annual filing with the U.S. Postal Service, the Morning Sentinel continues to suffer big losses in circulation. Average sales of the paper in 2009 were 15,897, compared to 17,221 in 2008 and 18,193 in 2007.
In the last two years the Sentinel, which had previously avoided the big circulation declines that have afflicted other Maine papers, has lost 12.6 percent of its readers.
Steady and up: The figures aren’t nearly as grim at the Ellsworth American, where average weekly sales inched up from last year by nineteen copies to 10,464. At the American’s sister paper, the Mount Desert Islander, the outlook was even brighter. Average circulation climbed 7.6 percent from 2008 to 2009 to reach 3,644.
The American and Islander bucked trends in more than just posting positive numbers. The two papers are the only ones in Maine I’ve seen that make sure their readers notice the Statement of Ownership, Management and Circulation the Postal Service requires them to publish to obtain favorable mailing rates. Not only is the information prominently displayed, but it’s also accompanied by an explanation to help readers understand the data. According to publisher Baker, it’s the third year the papers have provided that additional information.
One final note on the EA and MDI and their experiment in charging for their Web content. Since the change earlier this year to require readers to pay for digital subscriptions, the results are mixed. Only about 250 people signed up for the online content, according to Baker, but the end of free Web access has resulted in small upturns in both print subscriptions and newsstand sales at both papers.
Making Web visitors pay to read the papers “may not be a panacea” for declining circulation figures, Baker said, “but it hasn’t hurt us.”
News you can’t use: On Oct. 10, the Bangor Daily News ran a story from Mal Leary of the Capitol News Service reporting on big increases in the fees the state will begin charging on Oct. 13  for copies of birth certificates and other vital records.
Trouble is, by the time that story saw print, it was already too late to avoid the price hikes, since state offices were closed for the holiday weekend.
Did it occur to anybody at the Bangor Daily or Capitol News that getting that information out there before the deadline would have been a reader-friendly thing to do?
Shared shots: It took a lot longer to work out the details than anyone expected, but Portland television stations WCSH (Channel 6) and WGME (Channel 13) have finally come up with an arrangement to pool some video coverage of routine events such as press conferences and local sports. The two stations made the announcement in a press release on Oct. 12.
The video-sharing deal, similar to that in many other TV markets, has been under discussion for months and was first reported on here in March .
The agreement is designed to save both stations money, but it doesn’t come without some costs. There’s bound to be a loss of independent news judgment as a result of having fewer journalists at a news event. This was the reason cited by WMTW (Channel 8), Portland’s other TV news outlet, for not joining the cooperative. And there’s a certain deceptive aspect to the arrangement, since the stations won’t be letting viewers know when they’re watching pool video from a competing station.
Hard shots: Former Morning Sentinel reporter Joel Elliott had a tough time dealing with management  at the Waterville daily, but that was nothing like the time he had dealing with the police in Delhi, India .
According to an account Elliott posted on the Outlook India Web site on Oct. 10, he was severely beaten and arrested by the several officers after he witnessed them assaulting another man. The police claimed Elliott was drunk and trying to steal a taxi. Elliott is demanding an official investigation of the incident and seeking a half-million dollars in damages.
Elliott was dismissed from the Sentinel in January after clashing with both management and local power brokers in Waterville over his reporting style. Since then, he’s been traveling and filing freelance articles for a number of major publications.