Down East 2013 ©
Taking the weekend off: On Thursday, Nov. 3, Maine Public Radio’s Susan Sharon scooped the competition by airing a story  indicating the backers of a casino in downtown Lewiston had agreed to sell a major interest in the operation to an out-of-state company called M Five Inc. for $5 million. Sharon cited documents signed by the principals in the gambling enterprise as her source. But she couldn’t get comments from those principals and had to settle for a spokesman for the pro-casino campaign saying he knew nothing about any sale.
Any enterprising journalist in the Lewiston area would have been quick to follow up, first, by tracking down those who signed the sale document to get their side of the story and second, by assessing the implications of this arrangement on the statewide vote on the project scheduled for Nov. 8. Obviously, time was of the essence.
There was nothing in the Lewiston Sun Journal on Friday, Nov. 4. That could be because Sharon’s piece ran late in the afternoon – after 5 p.m. when so many intrepid reporters call it a day – so there was no chance for immediate follow up. Unless somebody was willing to pay overtime.
There was nothing in the Sun Journal on Saturday, Nov. 5. But hey, the weekend was coming up.
Sunday, Nov. 6 came and went. In spite of putting out a paper with few local stories in it, the Sun Journal couldn’t manage to squeeze in the casino sale piece.
Monday, Nov. 7: one day until the election. Still, no story. But it takes a while to get going at the start of the week.
Finally, on Tuesday, Nov. 8, just in time for people to start casting their ballots (except for those who already had), the Sun Journal swung into action.
Or, to be more accurate, it was forced into action, after opponents of the casino issued a statement challenging proponents to clarify the ownership issue. The tardy story , by staff writer Scott Taylor, repeated what public radio had already reported – five days before – and included some sorta, kinda denials from the pro-casino forces. Taylor didn’t indicate he’d pushed them to be clearer. The signed document is mentioned in passing. The implications are dealt with in the opening paragraph in which the yes side states the allegations are irrelevant. Taylor threw in a slam at the opposition and calls it a day.
The Sun Journal has used its editorial pages to show strong support for the Lewiston casino, a position also held by much of the Lewiston-Auburn power structure and many of the paper’s major advertisers. The feeble and five-day-late coverage of this issue raises questions about whether news judgment was influenced by something other than editorial considerations.
Or was it just laziness?
Discount dilemma: The Morning Sentinel did the right thing when it discovered it was inadvertently subsidizing the campaign of a candidate for mayor of Waterville. It told the candidate to pay back the $3,800 in discounts he received on ads in the newspaper, and it ran a front page story  explaining what happened.
Waterville Mayor Dana Sennett, seeking re-election on the Nov. 8 ballot, is an advertising salesperson at the Sentinel. The newspaper’s employees are entitled to discounts on ads they purchase. Sennett used that perk to save his campaign considerable money. When a campaign worker for one of his opponents examined candidate finance reports and discovered that deal, the Sentinel was notified. Newspaper officials told Sennett his discount did not apply to political ads, even though his supervisor had approved that arrangement and there apparently was nothing in writing to that effect.
Sentinel publisher and editor Tony Ronzio said the paper was re-examining its policies and procedures to make sure this sort of thing didn’t happen again.
During the campaign, the Waterville paper has been careful to disclose Sennett’s employment in every story, so there was awareness of the ethical issue, at least on the editorial side. But that sensitivity apparently didn’t extend to the advertising department, a serious oversight by top management. Given the uproar last year over the discovery that the Sentinel’s sister paper, the Portland Press Herald, had secretly underwritten  the cost of advertising in a Portland referendum campaign, it’s surprising this issue hadn’t been dealt with in advance on a companywide basis.
The Sentinel did the right thing in trying to mop up the mess. But this sort of breach of ethical standards shouldn’t have happened in the first place.
Al Diamon can be emailed at email@example.com .