Down East 2013 ©
Photo non-journalism: In the Sept. 6 Maine Sunday Telegram, Jim Keyser, described as the paper’s “copy desk chief” but heretofore best know to readers as its blogger on fantasy football , delved into the difficult issue of whether to publish a graphic war photo .
Keyser had some harsh words for the Associated Press on its decision to distribute a picture of a U. S. Marine from Maine who had been mortally wounded while on patrol in Afghanistan.
“We don’t need gratuitous reminders to know that members of our armed forces make the ultimate sacrifice,” Keyser wrote in explaining why the Telegram and its sister papers decided not to run the photo. He dismissed the AP’s claim that making the photo available was part of its “journalistic duty,” calling it “Bull.” He argued that an exclusive photograph such as this one isn’t “done with readers and the public in mind; it is done with competition and awards in mind.” He concluded the photo “had no true news value.”
In a brief introduction to Keyser’s column, Telegram editor/publisher Richard Connor said he agreed with his employee’s assessment.
It’s difficult to say what implications this column will have for future editorial decisions at the Telegram, the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal, and Morning Sentinel. It certainly provides squeamish readers with assurance that nothing shocking will disturb their breakfasts without clearance from the very highest levels of MaineToday Media, the papers’ owner.
But it also gives us some indication that decisions on what is too disturbing for the sheltered Maine public’s eyes will be based on simplistic notions that might have more to do with public relations than journalism. There’s a hint here that what Keyser and Connor are really saying is, why provoke controversy when it won’t increase circulation or advertising sales. And when Keyser claims the much-criticized photo has no news value, he’s calling into serious question his qualifications to assess such value.
For a more balanced view of the issues involved (and a link to the photo in question), check out the Lens blog  by David Dunlap on the New York Times site.
As Dunlap points out, there are several good reasons a thoughtful editor could have for deciding not to run the picture in question. Its grainy quality might not be up to a newspaper’s standards. The fact that the photo wasn’t released by the AP until several days after it was taken calls into question its timeliness. The request by the soldier’s family that it not be published is a factor that would have to be given some weight.
But to claim, as Keyser did, that publishing such an image displays a “lack of common decency,” is absurd. War itself is the very definition of a lack of common decency. Covering it requires journalists to convey that fact.
Real journalism: Just when I was about to give up hope that any reporter in Maine would ever again have the time, inclination, or chops to do some serious investigative work, Steve Mistler of the Forecaster has restored my faith in the profession with a stunning story of economic development gone wrong .
Mistler’s in-depth examination of the questionable public funding behind Oxford Aviation’s much-touted-but-ultimately-unsuccessful project in Sanford and the company’s ambitious plans for similar financing at the soon-to-close Brunswick Naval Air Station reveals a network of heavyweight political ties and a history of wasted taxpayer dollars. (The story also ran in the Sept. 5 Lewiston Sun Journal.)
Mistler has produced quality work for some time, but this piece is still surprising in its depth and detail, qualities that weeklies like the Forecaster rarely have the resources to bring forth.
An indication of things to come? Fingers crossed.
Real dude: Local fans of the comic strip “Big Nate ,” written and drawn by Lincoln Peirce of Portland, may recognize the substitute math teacher depicted in this week’s episodes.
The fictional “Mr. Corey” bears a striking resemblance to Corey Pandolph of Portland (although soon to be departing for New York City), the creative force behind such strips as “Elderberries ” and “Toby, Robot Satan .”
It’s the eyebrows of death that tipped me off.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com.