Down East 2013 ©
WCYY scams WGME: Here’s a short course in Journalism 101: When you get a tip something shocking is happening at a local radio station, unless there are fire trucks or CSI units parked around the studio, assume it’s a publicity stunt. Whatever the jocks or general manager might claim is going down, the alleged crisis is likely to be just another silly attempt to grab attention.
Apparently, the staff at WGME-TV in Portland missed class the day they taught that lesson. On Sept. 28, Channel 13 reported WCYY in Portland (94.3 and 93.9 FM) had suspended three of its most popular announcers  for “insubordination.”
The DJs had supposedly run a “commercial-free” weekend without permission from management. A statement to that effect  was posted on the station’s Web site and discussed on the station’s Twitter feed. The joke ended on Sept. 29, and the jocks returned to the air without ever admitting it was all about publicity.
But right from the beginning, WGME should have known better. Radio stations rarely allow staffers to publicly discuss personnel decisions, so the fact they were tweeting about it on CYY’s own feed should have been a clue. Instead of removing the suspended jocks’ photos from its Web site, the station put big red Xs across them, calling more attention to the situation. Staged video of the “dispute”  was circulating online.
And the biggest bit of evidence that all was not as it seemed: At least two news sites – North East Radio Watch  and Justin Ellis’ Portland Press Herald blog  – had already reported the supposed suspensions were probably phony.
Remedial lessons in fact-checking and intense therapy for gullibility are recommended for all involved at Channel 13. Because if you can be fooled by a radio station stunt, imagine how much trouble you’re going to have with politicians.
Off the air for real: North East Radio Watch  is also reporting that Blueberry Broadcasting is cutting costs by consolidating operations of three of its stations.
The country-music format of WBFB in Brewer (104.7 FM) will now be heard on WLKE in Bar Harbor (99.1 FM) and WMCM in Rockland (103.3 FM). The change cost long-time MCM morning-drive announcer Don Shields his job, leaving him without a mid-coast radio gig for the first time in a quarter century.
More circulation figures: There’s been a lot of talk about how weekly papers are faring better in the recession than dailies, but that doesn’t seem to be the case at two of Sun Media Group’s publications in western Maine. According to figures in forms filed with the U.S. Postal Service by the Advertiser Democrat in Norway and the Rumford Falls Times, circulation is down significantly.
The Times experienced a drop in average sales of the paper of just over 7 percent between last year and this, with newsstand sales being particularly hard hit. The paper’s paid circulation is now just 3,503 per week.
The AD fared better, taking a 2.46 percent loss for the year, almost all of it from the 10 percent of subscribers who didn’t renew. Newsstand sales were actually up slightly, leaving average weekly circulation at 6,074.
The Original Irregular in Kingfield nearly held its own this year. Average sales dropped from 1,970 per week in 2008 to 1,938 in 2009, a fraction of a percentage point.
If you’ve got figures for papers in your area, send them to me at the e-mail address below.
Back in circulation: According to Mainebiz, John Porter, the former editorial page editor of the Portland Press Herald, has opened his own public relations firm .
Porter was one of the casualties in June when MaineToday Media bought the Press Herald from the Blethen family. He had been at the Portland paper for nearly nineteen years, the last ten running the opinion pages.
His new company is called John Porter Public Strategies.
Catching up on the news: On Sept. 30, the Press Herald finally got around to covering a couple of news events it had somehow missed.
The paper ran an article on the Biddeford teacher disciplined for allegedly leaking information  to her students on part of a state educational assessment test, a story that was originally reported by the Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier  a week before.
In all that time, the Press Herald found surprisingly little new information – the teacher was suspended for a year; the Courier reporter threatened by the teacher’s mother (a Biddeford School Board member) will not press charges – but at least it noticed that something was happening.
The Portland daily did less well in covering the controversy over Maine Public Utilities Commissioner Jack Cashman’s recent European junket  with several businesspeople who have crucial decisions pending before the PUC.
On Sept. 30, the paper managed to insert a small mention of that possible conflict of interest near the end of a long article by staff writer Tux Turkel on commission proceedings in one of those cases.
To be fair to the Press Herald, no other media outlet in the state except Maine Public Radio has picked up on the Cashman issue.
Turkel’s article appeared to be prompted by complaints from some parties involved in the matter over how the PUC was handling negotiations toward a settlement, rather than any ongoing scrutiny of the agency’s functions. Since the departure of Fran Quinn from the Associated Press Augusta bureau, it appears nobody in the media is really paying close attention to the PUC.
And while I’m on the subject of paying attention, could somebody wake up Press Herald staffer Ann S. Kim, whose Sept. 29 piece on Maine’s rating by the U.S. Census Bureau  as second in the nation in food stamp use displayed a remarkable lack of initiative.
Kim faithfully regurgitated the Census Bureau data, which was based on a nationwide poll, but failed to check on whether the numbers matched up with reality. It should have been a simple matter to find out how many people in Maine are actually on food stamps, but the figure is nowhere in the story. It would also have been interesting to look at a breakdown of food-stamp use by county, by age and by family type and size.
Not only would that have told readers if the Census got its numbers right, but it would also have given them a better idea (other than the bureaucratic speculation that was included in the story) as to why the state is so dependent on the program.
Online upgrade: MaineToday Media – parent company of the Press Herald, Kennebec Journal, and Morning Sentinel – seems to be working on a redesign of its Web sites. According to several reliable witnesses, new fonts, colors and what appeared to be a malfunctioning comment system suddenly appeared on mainetoday.com sites for a few minutes on the afternoon of Sept. 29. The alterations had vanished by the time I could take a look.