MaineToday Media Restores KJ and Sentinel Editorial Pages
by Al Diamon
Local once again: MaineToday Media’s newspapers in Augusta and Waterville — the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel, respectively — haven’t had real editorial pages since Naomi Schalit was ousted from overseeing them in 2009. In spite of numerous local issues crying out for comment, the two publications have limped along using recycled material from its sister paper, the Portland Press Herald, and stuff from the national press. The once-vibrant collection of columnists from the communities the papers cover has deteriorated into fluff and predictable ranting.
In August, four years after Schalit’s departure, the Sentinel and KJ will once again start producing their own opinion pieces. MaineToday announced on July 17 that it has hired Ben Bragdon as editorial page editor of the two papers.
For the past six years, Bragdon has worked for Current Publishing in Westbrook, rising to the position of managing editor of its weekly papers, for which he wrote many editorials of the moderate-to-liberal orientation that has generally characterized MTM.
Bragdon’s replacement as Current’s managing editor will be John Balentine, the editor of that company’s Lakes Region Weekly. Publisher Lee Hews said she was beginning an immediate search for Balentine’s replacement at that paper.
(Disclaimer: My weekly political column runs in some Current papers.)
Monks-y business: According to a July 17 blog post by MaineToday Media State House reporter Steve Mistler, former MTM minority owner Robert C.S. Monks isn’t quite as detached from the company as previously reported. Mistler says Monks, a major donor to Democratic Party causes, still sits on MaineToday’s “advisory board.”
Mistler is to be commended for making this information public. But he’s to be criticized for not telling us who else sits on that board. For that matter, he ought to reveal who owns the 25 percent of the company not controlled by hedge-fund manager S. Donald Sussman.
Continuing to keep that information under wraps just adds to the impression that MaineToday has something to hide.
Heated reaction: I would never have known WDEA (1370 AM, Ellsworth) was running an online contest to find “the hottest TV newswoman in Maine” if Mike Redding, the news director at WCSH-TV in Portland and WLBZ-TV in Bangor, hadn’t taken offense and condemned the poll as “sexist and objectifying.” Redding’s July 15 attack on the promotion resulted not only in the promotion coming to my attention, but also prompted the station to change the name of the contest from “hottest” to “favorite.” It’s since vanished from WDEA’s website, although it’s still up on the site of one of its sister stations.
“I have reporters, male and female, who forget about their appearance entirely,” Redding told the Bangor Daily News. “They’re busy doing journalism all day.”
Redding certainly has a point, but it would be a considerably stronger one if Channel 6’s website wasn’t featuring a story about how to care for hermit crabs, and Channel 2 wasn’t investigating how to enjoy ice cream during a heat wave.
Journalism? Not exactly. If Redding wants his reporters to be taken seriously by radio weirdos, he should have them do more serious reporting.
When “no” means “maybe”: MaineToday Media Washington bureau chief Kevin Miller ran a story online on July 12 that made it clear Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine had no interest in becoming the new secretary of the federal Department of Homeland Security in the administration of Democratic President Barack Obama. Even in early editions of MaineToday’s print products on July 13, the article was emphatic that Collins wasn’t interested in the job. For instance, the version in the Morning Sentinel in Waterville carried the headline “Collins: No to Homeland Security.”
I’d provide links to that material, except that sometime late on the 12th or early on the 13th, the story got a little fuzzier, and the online version did some backing off, adding a little qualification to the earlier denial in the form of this sentence: “Collins’ spokesman, Kevin Kelley, did not explicitly say that Collins was not interested, but indicated Friday evening that the Maine Republican wasn’t planning on dropping her 2014 re-election bid.”
Miller should have added some explanation for this backtracking, so readers would have known whether he initially overstated the senator’s lack of interest or whether she started hedging her bets. To rewrite the story without mentioning the changes makes me wonder if Miller got it wrong of if he’s just pandering to the subject.
(Thanks to Collins-watcher Dan Aibel for alerting me to this subtle shift.)
Flood warning: According to informed sources in the industry, former weekly newspaper publisher David Flood (he once owned what are now the Mainely Media papers in York and Cumberland counties and briefly ran the Current Publishing weeklies in York County) is starting a magazine to be called Innovation Maine.
(Disclaimer: My weekly political column runs in papers published by both companies.)
From one blue to another: According to the All Access website, Blueberry Broadcasting has sold WFAU (1280 AM, Gardiner) to Blue Jey Broadcasting for a mere $16,200. WFAU has been off the air for some time.
Blue Jey is owned by Bob Bittner, who also operates WJTO (730 AM, Bath), a mostly listener-supported station that plays a quirky selection of pop standards.
Statistical casualty: From a story in the July 17 Bangor Daily News by staff writer Whit Richardson headlined, “Workplace fatalities increased in 2011”: “In 2011, the most recent data available, 26 Maine workers died from occupational or work-related injuries …. The 2011 figure is the highest one-year total since 2003, when there were 23 occupational fatalities.”
Back then, a death must have counted for more.
Al Diamon can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.