Down East 2013 ©
News snooze: There are days when the Lewiston Sun Journal is must reading. But all too often, there are the days when it barely exists as a local newspaper.
Some mornings, the Sun Journal offers first-rate reporting from a solid staff of journalists. Other days, it fills it pages with wire copy, badly edited pieces from other Maine papers, and press releases disguised to look like news stories.
Take the Sept. 11 edition, for example. Even though there was plenty going on to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks, there wasn’t a single staff-produced article on the front page. Instead there were three Associated Press pieces and one from the Los Angeles Times. The only indication anyone was on duty in the other L-A was a tease for a story on a wedding held at the Auburn Public Library that was hidden in section C and a promo for a 9/11 tribute piece, also buried inside. Why that latter piece didn’t run out front with the national coverage of the anniversary is one of the mysteries of the editorial mind.
To some extent, that day’s paper can be dismissed as an aberration. It’s a rare morning the Lewiston paper doesn’t manage to place at least one self-produced story on page one. Although, editions with only one aren’t that unusual.
Take, for instance, the Sept. 12 paper. There’s that single lonely local article , although it was produced by a stringer, not a staff writer. The rest of the front page belongs to the AP with the exception of a piece from Germany’s Deutsche Presse-Agentur on a simulated mission to Mars, a story that appears to be suffering from translation problems (“Watchers are keeping an ever more close eye on the men …”) that no Sun Journal editor bothered to correct.
Inside the first section, there’s some local news – from the Portland Press Herald (two), the Bangor Daily News (one), and the AP (two). Even the editorial comes from a California paper.
The rest of the paper features four staff-produced pieces in the local section, none of them involving anything remotely resembling breaking news or even enterprise reporting. There’s one story from the Sun Journal’s sports department, and the wire-service-heavy entertainment section is rounded out by a feature borrowed from the Bangor paper.
OK, it was a slow news day. But every other morning daily in Maine managed to find something of consequence to cover. In addition to its 9/11 local coverage, the Bangor Daily carried a report from Mal Leary  of the Capitol News Service on how federal cuts of law-enforcement grants will affect Maine. (The Sun Journal used to carry Leary’s stuff, but dropped it in a round of budget cutting a few years ago.)
Kennebec Journal staff writer Susan McMillan reported on increasing class sizes  in local schools.
The Morning Sentinel’s Amy Calder has a piece on the Waterville police chief’s campaign against dangerous dogs .
The Press Herald offered State House reporter Tom Bell’s coverage of the reason behind traffic problems  at the south end of the Maine Turnpike. (To the Sun Journal’s credit, this was one of the stories it used to fill its news hole.)
The Lewiston paper needs to better manage its obviously limited resources in order to cover important local news every day. Unless it finds a way to manage that task, it will have no one but itself to blame when the already serious decline in its circulation accelerates.
Local, but lousy: Nothing in the above posting should be interpreted to mean that just because content is staff-produced, it has any news value. As an example of how time can be squandered on non-news, check out reporter Meg Haskell’s article  in the Sept. 12 Bangor Daily on a barbecue hosted by the Democratic Party in Brewer.
If anything of consequence happened at this event, Haskell missed it. Which is understandable because she wasn’t there. She covered it by phone, after the fact.
If it wasn’t worth attending, it wasn’t worth writing about. Particularly since the piece came off more as promotional material for the Democrats than as news.
iBangor: The Bangor Daily News has finally joined the ranks of Maine papers available as apps for iPads, iPhones and Android. In addition to the newspaper’s contents, the app also offers several of the BDN’s often-excellent investigative pieces and some photo galleries.
Al Diamon can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org .