Down East 2013 ©
Thorough exam: On April 12, the Maine Legislature’s Insurance and Financial Services Committee held a public hearing on a fistful of bills to change the way the state regulates health insurance. Much of the proposed legislation would have profound impacts on the way people pay for doctor and hospital visits, medication, and emergency care.
The Maine media responded by … well, mostly they didn’t.
The Portland Press Herald and the other MaineToday Media papers had no story at all. Probably too busy covering the big furniture sale at Marden’s. 
No, I’m not kidding.
Likewise, Maine Public Radio and various television newsrooms were preoccupied with a bill setting rules for what bathrooms transgendered people can use.  Even the better Web sites, both liberal  and conservative,  had nothing on the subject.
In fact, the only news outlets that bothered to send reporters were the Bangor Daily News and the Lewiston Sun Journal. The Bangor paper ran a straightforward story  by staff writer Meg Haskell that summarized the purposes of most of the bills and offered some superficial paragraphs on their pros and cons, citing a few of the many people who testified. If you didn’t know much about the subject before you read it, you were marginally better informed afterwards.
But the Sun Journal article  by staff writer Steve Mistler showed how much Haskell’s story left out.
Mistler brought some perspective to his coverage, noting that business advocates, such as the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, opposed bills being pushed by Republicans and the administration of GOP Gov. Paul LePage, normally the chamber’s close allies.
Mistler reported not only on the measure’s stated intentions, but on many of their complicated consequences. Anyone who believes there are simple solutions to the health-care crisis will find Mistler’s reporting unsettling. Because he goes well beyond the role of reporter-as-stenographer, merely transcribing what happened into print without paying much attention to what it might mean, and actually provided some real insight into the problems reformers of all political ideologies face in dealing with health insurance costs.
A must-read from a first-rate journalist.
It almost makes up for everybody else’s indifference.
Regurgitation: Maybe the rest of the media will eventually get around to covering the points Mistler reported, but when they do, it’s unlikely they’ll produce anything fresh. As Jeff Inglis, editor of the Portland Phoenix, notes in his monthly column on news reporting,  the tendency in this state is for those following another outlet’s scoop to merely do the same reporting that’s already been done over again.
Inglis uses the example of the media frenzy over Gov. LePage’s removal of a mural from the state Department of Labor because of its alleged political implications. He noted that few stories over the past month attempted to do more than repeat whatever new information had previously been reported, thereby leaving many questions unanswered.
“In a competitive media environment,” Inglis wrote, “publications don't worry about getting the scoop a competitor had yesterday — they care about getting the news that hasn't been told yet. If someone gets a big break, other reporters swarm to the topic, seeking to build on that original story.”
While Inglis focused his piece on print journalism, this shortcoming is a mainstay of TV news, where rewrites of the morning papers, enhanced only slightly with video, take up the bulk of the evening newscasts on any night when there aren’t enough car crashes and fires.
(Disclosure: My weekly political column runs in the Phoenix.)
New debut: The website New Maine Times  is scheduled to put out its first “issue” on April 15. According to information on the site, the nonprofit NMT is preparing a detailed look at the governor’s budget and an examination of efforts to merge the Maine Turnpike Authority with the state transportation department.
It’ll be interesting to see how much – if any – new material on these frequently-but-not-deeply-reported topics the site comes up with.
Al Diamon can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org .