New Year’s Resolutions for the Maine Media
by Al Diamon
There are two incompatible items sitting on my desk:
1. A new Kindle Fire HD I got for Christmas.
2. A renewal notice for home delivery of the Morning Sentinel.
I don’t need them both. Although, I do need a 12-year-old to teach me how to use the Kindle. But once that happens, I can download an app and subscribe to the Sentinel (and many of the state’s other newspapers) online. I can file away the articles I want in the Cloud. I can reduce the amount of newsprint I have to recycle. I can save the time I spend clipping stories.
I can also do my part to hasten the death of the daily paper.
Because even though there’s a charge for my e-subscription, it’s a fraction of what I’m paying now. And even though I’ll still be reading the Sentinel (by which I mean the one or two local stories a day I haven’t already seen in the Portland Press Herald, plus the “Arlo and Janis” comic strip), I’ll no longer be counted in its print circulation, which makes me less valuable to advertisers.
I’m telling myself that I’ll continue to read the print versions of the other dailies – well, maybe not the Lewiston Sun Journal, which has become almost as irrelevant as the Sentinel and equally as expensive – but I know from the experience of friends that once I slip over the e-cliff, I’m unlikely to hang on to any pulp publications. Books, magazines, the Press Herald and the Bangor Daily News will likely find their way into my tablet. The daily trip to the general store to get the papers that don’t offer home delivery will cease.
From that perspective, here are a few New Year’s suggestions for those news organizations – whether analog, digital, audio or video – that wish to follow me (and lots of other potential consumers) into this uncertain future devoid of ink and tips for the delivery guy.
Organize your material in a sensible fashion. The prime offender here is the Bangor Daily. Its website has so much information posted on its home page that it’s almost impossible to sort it all out. News stories compete with columns, blogs and editorials for attention. New material gets mixed in with old. No one appears to be separating major developments in critical matters from the semi-coherent observations of amateurs. Some items are listed twice. Some aren’t clearly labeled as news or opinion or blather.
Now that new-media guru Tony Ronzio has come on board, it’s time to clean up the mess. Borrow an idea from the MaineToday Media websites and put a list of recent postings right at the top. Don’t feel compelled to run everything out front. Exercise some editorial judgment about what’s compelling to most visitors and what’s strictly a specialized item. Make finding what I want quick and easy, whether I’m a news junkie or just some dweeb checking the TV listings.
Speaking of MaineToday, it still doesn’t quite dare to embrace reality. Unlike the Bangor paper, it holds onto its scoops until the print editions have gone to press in the wee hours of the morning. Most of the fresh material it posts during the day is either wire copy or brief capsules hinting at the facts to come. This doesn’t make me want to wait until the next day to buy the paper. It causes me to search elsewhere for the information. Often, I find it, which serves to reinforce MaineToday’s increasing irrelevance.
The Sun Journal has as many resources as its bigger competitors, but you’d never know it by reading the paper. Scoops from its regional reporters often make it into only one edition. First-rate reporting from the many weeklies owned by its parent company rarely shows up in the daily. The Sun Journal uses a seemingly random assortment of pieces from the Bangor Daily to fill a frightening percentage of its local news hole. And its website is a nightmare to navigate. Even Google has trouble with it, often directing searches for recent stories to reprints in the Bangor paper.
The Sun Journal does manage to produce some decent investigative pieces, but far too rarely to justify charging readers for its mediocre output on most days. Its front page usually contains no more than one self-produced piece, and all too often that’s a soft feature.
Fix all that by making the site more user-friendly. Break through the internal politics or ego clashes that keep articles from the weeklies out of the daily. Stop littering the well-designed front page with wire copy and Bangor Daily stories, and use it for your own enterprise work. Make sure there’s more of that by cleaning out the deadwood and hiring some solid reporters. And add an editor or two to guide them.
The Maine Public Broadcasting Network has garnered much goodwill at the State House by announcing it will broadcast legislative sessions live on a new channel starting in February.
Every representative and senator will now talk twice as much, knowing there’s a chance somebody back home is watching. But without some actual reporting and commentary, it’s unlikely this expensive enterprise will gain much of an audience. Most of what happens on the House and Senate floors is simply too dull.
Too bad MPBN didn’t commit some of those resources to a daily TV newscast, one that exposes what’s really going on in Augusta. The network already has a decent reporting corps on the radio side. Making some of them do double duty on the tube would involve a minimum expense for a substantial return and would provide the legislative channel with real substance.
Speaking of public radio’s news effort, it’s time to shake things up. On too many evenings, Maine Things Considered, its flagship news program, seems tired, containing too much material rehashed from the morning papers. Or yesterday’s morning papers. Or last week’s. This wasn’t normally the case in the past, and there’s no good reason for it to continue. More enterprise. Less Sun Journalize.
My detailed take on the state of local television news is in the latest issue of The Bollard. Suffice it to say that TV reporting is unlikely to get worse in 2013, mostly because that would require even less creativity, determination and journalistic skill than the barely detectable amounts apparent on local channels.
Five years ago, Maine’s political blogs were forces to be reckoned with. Sites like PolitickerME.com set the pace for political news. DirigoBlue.com regularly scooped the major news organizations. Pine Tree Politics had the inside story on conservative activities. Mike Tipping’s Maine Politics covered stuff nobody else had from the liberal side.
Today, Politicker is gone. Dirigo is a shell of its former self. Pine Tree is a once-a-week column in the Bangor Daily. Tipping shows up every couple of weeks in the Kennebec Journal and infrequently on the Bangor paper’s site.
Nothing would make the new year better than to have some show up.
That, and learning to use my Kindle.
Al Diamon can be emailed at email@example.com.