MPBN Lays Off 10, Cuts “Maine Watch” TV Show
by Al Diamon
Sequestration means cancellation: The Maine Public Broadcasting Network announced on April 5 that it’s laying off 10 employees and putting its only locally produced public affairs show, “Maine Watch,” on hiatus at least until fall.
In a news release, MPBN president Mark Vogelzang blamed the cutbacks on the federal sequester, state budget reductions and “the challenges of a slow economic recovery in the philanthropic community.” He called the federal cut of over $100,000 “the tipping point” that prompted action. Without any changes, he said, the public radio and television networks would have run up a shortfall of more than $400,000 by year’s end.
“The severity of our cuts in funding – especially the Federal funding piece – really tied our hands,” Vogelzang said.
Most of those losing their jobs are part of the in-house video production unit. Vogelzang said other programming, such as the new channel devoted to covering the state Legislature, high school basketball tourney coverage and radio news would not be affected.
MPBN has an annual budget of more than $10 million, with the largest portion coming from donations from listeners and underwriting by companies. State funding is scheduled to be phased out over the next few years.
By making the cuts now, the release said, MPBN hopes to avoid additional staff reductions later in 2013.
Hometown bias? The Lewiston Sun Journal and reporter Lindsay Tice have been doing a fine job this week of covering allegations of wrongdoing at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Tice has written several stories about claims by a top CDC official that she was ordered to shred documents that indicated her bosses were altering scores for Healthy Maine Partnership organizations, apparently to shift funding from one group to another, possibly for partisan political reasons.
The partnership organization in the Sun Journal’s home county of Androscoggin was among those hit hardest by those changes, and local Democratic legislators were among the first to call for an investigation of the matter. Tice reported on that development in her second-day story, mentioning only in passing that state Sen. Margaret Craven of Lewiston is on the board of Healthy Androscoggin.
Actually, Craven is on the group’s “advisory board,” but the point is she has a vested interest in the organization, which may or may not be in accordance with those of a state legislator’s constituents. There’s nothing illegal about that, mostly because Maine’s ethics laws are pretty loose. But the connection seems worthy of more than a single subordinate phrase, which is all it got.
Although Tice and the Lewiston paper haven’t raised the issue of a possible conflict in any stories to date, they did devote considerable space to criticism of CDC management by Craven and other Democrats. Since the center is under the state Department of Health and Human Services, part of the administration of Republican Gov. Paul LePage, such an omission opens the door to claims of ideological bias. That type of criticism could be avoided if the pieces contained even a single paragraph explaining Craven’s full role.
One more point: Craven doesn’t list her membership on the partnership’s board on her most recent filing last month with the state ethics commission (see part 13).
Even her hometown paper should be a little curious about why that is.
More hometown bias: It’s time to retire the meaningless phrase “going viral.” The April 4 Portland Press Herald used it in a story by staff writer Noel K. Gallagher concerning a two-minute movie about Portland posted online by a German filmmaker. According to the article, the flick has “almost 14,000 hits and was buzzing around local social media circles.”
Seems less like “viral” and more like microbial.
Al Diamon can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.