Down East 2013 ©
No-bonus miles: MaineToday Media’s decision to send Portland Press Herald reporter Matt Wickenheiser to Europe to cover a delegation of Maine business and political leaders seeking wind-power deals has produced a lot of copy, but almost no news.
Wickenheiser spent the first couple of days of the trip talking to the Mainers about their plans to cash in on wind farms , something he could have done without leaving the state.
By the time he got around to mentioning developments in Germany and Norway  – on his fourth day of reporting from overseas – it was becoming obvious there wasn’t much to cover.
“We can help revitalize a lot of Maine’s economy,” one participant told him. “If you have the will, you can do anything.”
Stop the presses.
Making matters worse, Wickenheiser, normally as skeptical a reporter as any in local media circles, doesn’t seem interested in questioning the basic premise behind the trip – that wind power is a viable manufacturing and energy alternative for Maine. (Disclosure: I’m on record elsewhere as expressing the opinion that it isn’t.) For instance, he could be asking some of the participants how they’ll cover the $30 billion cost to ratepayers (as estimated by ISO New England) of the new transmission lines that will be needed to carry all that electricity Maine plans to generate from wind.
But even if the reasons behind this expensive junket can be justified, there are still some troubling political and ethical issues that aren’t getting covered. One of Wickenheiser’s fellow travelers is Maine Public Utilities Commissioner Jack Cashman. Cashman and his fellow commissioners are considering a request from Central Maine Power to upgrade its transmission facilities to the tune of $1.5 billion, the largest such case the PUC has ever dealt with. The upgrade is needed, according to CMP, to allow it to move electricity from northern Maine wind farms, both actual and proposed, to markets elsewhere. (CMP is also an investor in a wind-farm company.)
The trip is being hosted by CMP’s parent company (although Cashman is reported to be paying his own way). CMP’s chief attorney is another delegation member, as are representatives of Cianbro, the Maine construction company that’s an intervener in the CMP case.
An enterprising reporter might have asked Cashman if his close proximity with these advocates generated at least the appearance of a conflict of interest. A journalist might inquire whether the voyage afforded a powerful entity an unimpeded opportunity to lobby a key regulatory official on a pending case. Finally, it might have been worthwhile asking if there’s any good reason for a PUC commissioner to take part in a trip that’s supposed to be about making business contacts.
To date, Wickenheiser has done no reporting on any of that. Which raises questions as to whether he’s unaware of the situation (given his history of thorough reporting from the State House, this seems unlikely) or whether his bosses have decided to spin this series in a positive direction for reasons of their own.
Whatever the answer, readers of the Press Herald and its sister papers are not being well served by the coverage of this overseas jaunt.
No reason to tell: Maine Public Radio’s Susan Sharon dug up a lot of telling details in her Sept. 23 report on a new TV spot opposing same-sex marriage , including a tie between the couple in the spot and a pollster active in the California campaign to ban such unions.
But one of her details was unnecessary and prejudicial.
Sharon reported that the Massachusetts family in the ad – they had protested school lessons that mentioned same-sex unions favorably – were Mormons and that the man’s grandfather was an apostle of the church.
Their religion is relevant how? Their grandfather’s faith is of importance in what sense?
Sharon didn’t mention the spiritual leanings of anyone else involved in the story. And other reporters, such as the Kennebec Journal’s Susan Cover  and the Lewiston Sun Journal’s Rebekah Metzler , didn’t consider the family’s affiliation with the Mormons important enough to include it their stories.
This seems to be that rare case in which a little less information would have been a whole lot better.
No, Giselle, spelling is your weakness: A reader with far more time on his hands than I do alerted me to this gem from Press Herald social columnist Giselle Goodman’s blog entry of Sept. 23 :
“Mardens is my weekness, you should know.”
My weakness is weak ends.
I think this is one right here.