Down East 2013 ©
Failing journalism 101: There are certain fundamental questions reporters and editors are supposed to make sure their stories answer. Lately, there have been disturbing signs that some Maine journalists – all of whom should know better – have been ignoring or neglecting these crucial aspects of the news business.
The Lewiston Sun Journal’s Lindsay Tice could have had a nice scoop on April 15 with her piece  on the decision by Gov. Paul LePage and legislative leaders to replace all members of the state Consensus Economic Forecasting Commission. But she and her editor(s) didn’t pay attention to the first question a news story is supposed to answer: Who?
Tice does inform her readers that Charles Colgan, a former state economist, had been removed from the board, and Scott Moody of the conservative Maine Heritage Policy Center is now a member. Late in the article, she mentions the new chairman is Jim Clair, a former legislative staffer.
The commission has five members, so who else was fired? She doesn’t say.
Who replaced them? Listen to the crickets.
If that information isn’t readily available, Tice should have said so and followed up as soon as possible thereafter. But she did neither one. So the public is left to wonder who’s coming up with the revenue forecasts that will decide future state spending.
Less critical, but no less excusable, is the hole in the April 16 Portland Press Herald story by staff writer Edward D. Murphy  on the decision to close Cathedral School in Portland. Murphy tells us the exact location of the city’s remaining parochial school. He’s got the site of the nearest such facility in another municipality. But nobody at an editor’s desk noticed that he didn’t include an address or even mention of the neighborhood where Cathedral is located.
Finally, there’s the matter of putting the most important information at or near the top of the story. MaineToday Media, the Associated Press, and the Maine Public Broadcasting Network all appear to need remedial journalism classes after burying the news on April 16 that a legislative committee had asked the state attorney general to launch an investigation into the financial dealings of the former executive director of the Maine Turnpike Authority.
The MaineToday story by staff writer Tom Bell doesn’t mention the unanimous committee vote to refer the matter to the AG until the fourth paragraph.
The AP piece  by Clarke Canfield got it in the third graph. To the credit of an editor at the Bangor Daily News, that information was included in a sub-headline over Canfield’s story in that paper.
At MPBN,  reporter A.J. Higgins waited until the final seconds of his four and a half minute piece to bring up the subject.
These oversights weren’t the work of recent, raw j-school grads. They were blunders by experienced reporters, including some of the best in the state. That would seem to indicate the need for a refresher course in fundamentals for everyone in the profession. If the Society of Professional Journalists or some other group decides to offer such a class, I’ll be among the first to sign up. I just hope I won’t be alone.
New Hometown: The Hometown Newspaper chain  has grown from four to five weekly papers. The publisher of the SV Weekly, Moosehead Messenger, Piscataquis Times and Somerset Times has expanded into the Bangor market with the March 31 debut of the Citizen Journal.
The CJ – which is being distributed for free for its first twelve weeks, after which it will cost 30 cents – has already boosted its press run from 4,000 copies in its first week to 5,800 for the most recent edition. Wildly optimistic publisher Robert Pushard Jr. said he expects paid circulation to reach more than 10,000 in the next year or so. The twenty-page paper is distributed in Bangor and its surrounding suburbs.
Pushard said the idea of moving into that market came after he received complaints about what some readers of the Bangor Daily News perceived as a liberal bias in that paper’s news coverage. They wanted a publication that reflected a conservative viewpoint.
“We said, ‘No.’ We didn’t want to compromise the product with a political slant,” said Pushard. “But it did get us thinking. We asked ourselves if there was a market niche for news stories as news stories, not advocacy pieces.
“It’s old-school journalism, covering the local stories the bigger media outlets don’t cover …. And we cover regional and state stories in a straightforward manner.”
Just in case that doesn’t get the point across, the CJ’s front page also features the current national debt figure (an idea borrowed from the Ellsworth American) and an “honor roll” of servicemen and women killed in action.
Subtly done, Mr. Pushard.
If you can’t say something nice: No, really, I can. Watch this.
Kennebec Journal staff writer Mechele Cooper did some good work in her April 17 story  on the resignation of Dan Demeritt, chief spokesman for Gov. LePage. Demeritt quit after news reports  earlier in the week about his financial difficulties, including having some of his properties in foreclosure. Most of those stories also made mention of an incident of arson at one of Demeritt’s apartment buildings, leaving the perhaps unintentional impression that he might have been involved in setting the fire. Cooper, using public documents on file with the local court, carefully laid out the facts of the case, which indicate another man is suspected of the crime and his motivation had to do with a dispute with his girlfriend.
That information was readily available to any reporter who made an effort. Only Cooper did so.
Here’s another nice comment. Op-eds in the Press Herald are usually bland re-workings of arguments made more effectively elsewhere, so it was refreshing to read Tom Crotty’s cantankerous April 15 rant  on the real damage done by the debate over the mural removed by gubernatorial order from the state Department of Labor’s office. Crotty is unafraid to say what he thinks, and what he thinks is original and thoughtful.
More like this, please.
One more nice item: Press Herald columnist Bill Nemitz is responsible for filling a lot of space every week, so he can be excused for sometimes relying of formulaic pieces and warm-fuzzy stories. But on those occasions when Nemitz is given some red meat, he still knows how to tear into it.
Case in point: his April 17 column  on the soon-to-be-released documentary on the 2009 same-sex marriage campaign in Maine. Not only did Nemitz carefully analyze footage from the film that’s been released in advance, he got great quotes from those covered (and uncovered) in the clips. The result was a thorough and revealing glimpse into a side of politics rarely glimpsed by the public.
OK, that’s all the nice I can stand. Back to normal next time.
Al Diamon can be emailed at email@example.com .