Down East 2013 ©
Some Stuff I Like (really): Let’s start with the new Capitol Connection column  from Maine Public Broadcasting Network’s A.J. Higgins.
State House veteran Higgins knows where the bodies are buried and unearths several in his initial piece, exposing publicly funded legislative candidates who also maintain political action committees to collect private donations for their races for leadership positions. Higgins is fair to a fault to these politicians who straddle the line between “Clean” funding and whatever you call the other method of raising money. But thanks to his skill as a reporter and writer, the piece has real bite.
My only gripe is it’s lost amid the clutter on MPBN’s Facebook page, where Higgins also posts excerpts from just about every political news release that crosses his desk. That’s a useful service to political junkies, but that mess needs to be separated from the weekly column, so the latter gets more notice.
And how come MPBN  isn’t posting this worthwhile piece of journalism on its anemic Web site?
Surely a site that has room to inform us when the Bangor City Council is voting on an ordinance to allow residents to keep chickens  and a lecture on “The Shiretown of Pownalborough”  could make space for information of statewide importance.
Next up on my list of good stuff is Time Warner Cable’s new show “The Road To The Blaine House With Mal Leary.” In this weekly program (Thursdays at 6:30 p.m. on either channel 9 or 12 on Time Warner Cable), Leary, the mainstay of the Capitol News Service, interviews one of the gubernatorial candidates. If the first outing on February 4 (and still available on Time Warner’s on-demand channel) is an example of what’s to come, no voter in Maine will have any excuse for being uninformed about those seeking the governorship.
In a mere thirty minutes, Leary queried Republican Peter Mills on a broad range of topics, from maintaining roads and bridges to streamlining environmental regulations to consolidating government services, all without allowing the interview to get bogged down in generalities and stump-speech blather. He also didn’t allow Mills to dodge tough questions.
That’s because Leary actually knows a lot about the issues, and when Mills was less than complete in his comments, the moderator was quick to ask pointed follow-ups. He forced the candidate to concede that many of his proposals to reform health care weren’t as simple as they might appear, since they require federal approval before the state can take action. He noted that some of Mills’ plans for education had been before the Legislature many times, but failed to win approval. And he got the candidate to admit that his infrastructure improvement plan includes an increase in the gasoline tax.
The show isn’t perfect. The opening biographical segment, narrated over still photos of the candidate, needs editing. We don’t need to know how many grandkids he has or every irrelevant board he serves on. And the closing section in which Leary asks personal questions (favorite food, last movie seen) is a waste of time that could have been devoted to more substantial matters.
But even with those minor flaws, this program is miles ahead of anything the over-the-air channels (including public TV) have produced in recent years.
Judith Meyer, the Lewiston Sun Journal’s managing editor, injected a hefty dose of reality into the discussion of racism in Lewiston-Auburn in an opinion piece published February 7. 
Meyer attended a conference in late January called “Advice for America: What Lewiston-Auburn Has Learned Since 2000 About Fostering Relationships Between Residents and Newcomers.” By “Newcomers,” the conference organizers meant Somalis and by “Fostering Relationships,” they meant ones that didn’t involve racial epithets and hate crimes.
The Sun Journal’s original coverage of the conference  was glowingly positive. One speaker called the progress made in getting mostly white L-A residents to accept the mostly black immigrants “a model for cities elsewhere.”
Meyer was taken aback by the blinders the conference participants seemed to be wearing.
“I hear negative comments [about Somalis] every day,” she wrote. “Every. Day. It’s distressing, but it’s real.”
As for the sharp difference between her view of the situation and that of the attendees, she wrote, “I can only guess that these social workers, educators and others working in the public sector do not always hear what I hear on the street because they can be insulated in their programs, focused on their mission, and too many do not – themselves – integrate with the community at-large.”
Polite, but pointed. And it really needed to be said.
Finally, a small pat on the back to the Bangor Daily News for doing what newspapers are supposed to do: Report the whole story.
The Bangor paper ran a story on February 8  on the awards it had won at the New England Newspaper and Press Association Better Newspaper Contest.
It also included the names of all the other winners from Maine, something papers in this state have seemed reluctant to do in the past. But if it’s news when you score a plaque, it’s news when the other guys do it, too.
It’s worth noting that the Sun Journal, Morning Sentinel, Kennebec Journal and Portland Press Herald all had no coverage of the NENPA awards and, perhaps coincidentally, no awards of their own.
And one thing I don’t like: The Morning Sentinel in Waterville should have labeled the February 8 front-page story headlined “Advice on gifts for your valentine ” as what it really was: a promotion for its advertisers.
The piece by staff writer Amy Calder masquerades as tips on buying flowers and candy. But all those tips come from local stores (some of which advertise in the paper), and all of them are aimed at discouraging people from buying flowers online and chocolates from chain stores.
On ordering flowers on the Web, Calder writes, “ [Customers] may face hidden costs, unknowingly send flowers of poorer quality or lesser quantity than expected – and the delivery companies may drop them off on a doorstep in 20-degree weather if the recipient is not home.”
Says who? Well, not the Better Business Bureau, where the woman who was familiar with these issues wasn’t in on Friday, according to the story. And certainly not an online florist. The only one Calder tried to reach didn’t return her call before the weekend.
That left just the local businesses to comment, and they had a field day promoting themselves in uncontested fashion. For example, unnamed candy merchants informed the reporter that “some larger stores have chocolate that could be a year old.”
No spokespersons from “larger stores” are quoted in the article.
Next time, why not just hand out free ads. It’d be more honest.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com .