MaineToday Media Ends Story Swapping
By Al Diamon
No more trading: The agreement among several of the state’s daily papers to exchange articles is yesterday’s news at MaineToday Media. The company that owns the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel has halted its participation in a 2008 arrangement that allowed it to share content with the Bangor Daily News and Lewiston Sun Journal, with all three papers printing stories from the others.
MaineToday abruptly cancelled its participation in the program, known as “Boxnet,” on Aug. 2 by sending brief e-mails to its former partners.
“The Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel are no longer participating in Boxnet,” Maureen Milliken, news editor at those papers, wrote. “We’re not putting stories on, and we’re not taking them off. We also are not sharing stories via our websites.”
The Press Herald also withdrew in similar fashion.
The story swap was created at a time when the daily papers were cutting reporters and editors, and was supposed to help maintain adequate news coverage with fewer bodies. In the past year, both MaineToday and the Bangor Daily have beefed up their staffs, reducing the need for the exchange. According to a source at MTM, management felt that, with all the additional reporters it had hired, it was contributing far more to Boxnet than it was getting back.
That’s probably true. The Lewiston paper, which hasn’t added any reporters, has been the biggest user of the story swap, often running articles from the other papers on its front page and filling much of pages 2 and 3 with that content. In return, the Sun Journal supplies its partners with only a handful of pieces each week, many of which are light features.
Nevertheless, the Bangor Daily appears to be committed to continuing the story exchange. In addition to the Lewiston paper, it regularly trades content with the Times Record in Brunswick, the Journal Tribune in Biddeford, the Forecaster weeklies in southern Maine (which are owned by the same company as the Sun Journal) and some New Hampshire papers. The Sun Journal, in addition to its heavy reliance on copy from Bangor, also makes limited use of stories from the numerous weeklies owned by its parent company and articles from Mainebiz.
Another photo grab: In the wake of negative publicity about the decision by MaineToday Media to appropriate a photo from a Flickr account without permission, you might think editors and reporters would be more sensitive about getting proper clearance before grabbing material off the Web. But that doesn’t appear to be the case at the Lewiston Sun Journal.
On Sept. 3, the paper posted an article online on the retirement of longtime state veterinarian Don Hoenig. The same piece showed up in print the next morning. Both were accompanied by a photo of Hoenig patting a dog. The picture was credited to the Bangor Daily News.
In reality, the photo was lifted from a June issue of Bangor Metro, a local lifestyle magazine, and was the work of freelancer Kevin Kratka. According to Metro editor Melanie Brooks, neither she nor Kratka was asked for permission. “I am appalled that a newspaper would not only steal a photo from another publication’s website, but that they would credit it incorrectly,” Brooks wrote in an e-mail. “Is it laziness or sloppiness?”
After being contacted by Brooks, the Sun Journal hastily removed the photo from its Web site and apologized. But by then, the article and picture had also been published in the Bangor Daily News (thanks to the above-mentioned story-swapping arrangement).
On Sept. 5, the Sun Journal corrected a small error in the story, but, in a curious omission, made no mention of the incorrect attribution or unauthorized use of the photo.
Sun Journal executive editor Rex Rhoades e-mailed to say reporter Bonnie Washuk made a “simple mistake” in confusing Bangor Metro with the Bangor Daily. Rhoades also said he’d pay the photographer and allow the Metro to run a Sun Journal photo for free “any time they like.”
Remaining nameless: Here’s a tough call: When a child is charged with a serious crime, is it ethical to use his or her name in news stories?
The issue is far from theoretical. Last week, a 10-year-old girl from Fairfield was charged with manslaughter in the death of an infant her mother was babysitting.
In their initial stories, the Bangor Daily News and the Associated Press didn’t use either the child’s name or her mother’s, citing policies against identifying minors charged with crimes. The MaineToday Media papers didn’t have the child’s name in its first reports, but in subsequent stories, they identified the mother and the girl without any disclaimer or explanation.
So, who’s right?
There are compelling arguments both ways. The defendant is not only young, but also suffers from developmental disabilities. There seems to be little to be gained and much to lose by subjecting her to public scrutiny.
On the other hand, the mother had previously been warned by state officials about letting the child babysit, because there had been an earlier incident in which a toddler had come to harm under her care. It could be argued there’s a legitimate public interest in identifying the parent involved, since her lack of supervision may have figured in both cases. Of course, using the mother’s name effectively reveals the daughter’s as well.
There’s also the argument that the names are out there, anyway, in the blogosphere and on Twitter. For the news media to pretend the neighbors don’t know who’s involved is a throwback to simpler times.
I tend to come down on the side of journalists not keeping any more secrets than are absolutely necessary. I probably would have used the mother’s name in the first place. Considering that the charge is manslaughter, I think it’s appropriate to print the child’s, as well, although that would have been a close call. But once the additional incident came to light, any doubt would have been erased. I would have used both names.
Still, I can’t say the news operations that took the opposite approach are wrong. There’s a gray area here that needs further examination without the pressure of pending deadlines.
Good stuff on schools: Robert Long was hired by the Bangor Daily News to do political analysis, and that’s looking more and more like a good decision. Long’s Sept. 1 examination of Maine’s efforts to overcome flaws in the federal No Child Left Behind law was clear, concise, thoughtful and thorough. It was also interesting enough that I read it all the way through, even though I don’t have any kids in public schools, and my town isn’t affected by the rules. An article doesn’t get more compelling than that.
Equally good was the extensive and exhaustive work of the Maine Sunday Telegram’s Colin Woodard on how for-profit corporations and conservative political interests are influencing Maine government’s policies on virtual schools.
Woodard hasn’t done such an impressive investigative piece since coming to the MaineToday Media papers earlier this year, but this mega-story shows what he’s capable of, when given the time and resources.
Downgrade: According to the Nielsen rating service, the Portland-Auburn market is no longer the 78th largest in the country. Nielsen now lists southern Maine as the 80th biggest market, with the number of TV homes in the area predicted to decline from 401,370 this year to 389,530 in 2013.
It’s not clear what’s to blame for that 3 percent drop, since Greater Portland has been gaining population in recent years. Maybe the new arrivals aren’t buying TVs.
Maine’s other Nielsen market, Bangor, held steady at 155th largest, although it, too, lost TV households. Bangor was down 2.5 percent, from 141,580 this year to 138,040 expected in 2013.
Al Diamon can be emailed at email@example.com.