Down East 2013 ©
In spite of the weather kids: For the first time, the average daily circulation of the Portland Press Herald has dropped below 50,00 copies, according to the paper’s Statement of Ownership, Management and Circulation published in the October 8 edition. For the year just past, the Press Herald sold an average of 49,066 papers each day, down from the 60,148 listed in last year’s statement.
That represents an 18.4 percent decline.
According to an informed source at MaineToday Media, the Press Herald’s parent company, the drop-off isn’t quite as severe as it appears. Since buying the paper last year, MTM has dumped some of the gimmicks the previous owner used to inflate its numbers. The source said the actual loss of circulation from 2009 to 2010 was more in the neighborhood of five percent when the numbers are adjusted to take those changes into account. That figure would be closer to the declines shown in previous years.
The source said the new procedure also explains a previously reported twenty percent loss of readers at the Maine Sunday Telegram,  with the adjusted figure being more in the range of six percent.
If that’s the case, it’s still awful. Just not quite as awful as it appeared.
Tardy reporting: One of the most popular sections of any newspaper is the police blotter, listing arrests and other activity of local law enforcement. Trouble is, these features are often handled in a perfunctory fashion, with the information slapped into print without any editorial guidance. As a result, some interesting stories get missed and, occasionally, some innocent folks have their names tarnished unfairly.
It shows Joshua Tardy of Newport was nabbed on October 2 for operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated on Interstate 295.
If anyone with any knowledge of Maine politics had looked at that listing, that person would have reached for the phone. That’s because Tardy  is the Republican floor leader in the Maine House of Representatives. If he was charged with OUI, it was a news story.
A reporter for the Times Record in Brunswick did just that and discovered that while Tardy had been driving erratically and hadn’t done all that well on field sobriety tests, he had passed a breath-alcohol test, which showed he was well below the legal limit for driving. The charges were dropped within a couple of hours. As a result, the Times Record didn’t publish the arrest information.
The Forecaster was less diligent. Apparently unaware of who Tardy is, it neglected to check on the case, and published only the report of his arrest.
Tardy is a lawyer and a legislator, so he has some resources to set the record straight. But the incomplete coverage of his case ought to make any paper that includes a police blotter wonder what happens to less prominent people whose arrests turn out to be mistakes or are later overturned in court.
Who’s responsible for fixing their reputations?
Even tardier reporting: Last week, somebody defaced some of Republican state Senate candidate Roger Katz’s campaign signs in Augusta with anti-Semitic slurs. The wording of the messages indicated the graffiti was probably not the work of kids, since it mirrored phrases favored by neo-Nazi hate groups (including the acronym “ZOG,” which stands for “Zionist Occupation Government”).
You’d think that such an incident might be news, particularly since Katz is the city’s mayor, and the vandalism was reported to police. But the Kennebec Journal didn’t seem to think the story merited coverage. Nor would it allow publication of at least two letters to the editor on the subject — one of them from a city councilor.
That embargo remained in place for nearly a week, ending on October 8, after the story showed up on WGME-TV  out of Portland. Even then, the KJ gave it only a brief mention  in the second section.
According to a person familiar with the editorial thinking at the KJ, the story was suppressed because the paper feared reporting on it would encourage more anti-Semitic incidents.
I assume that means no more coverage of murder, robbery, rape, and corruption, as well.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org .