Media Mutt

News? Opinion? It’s Anybody’s Guess on Bangor Daily Website

by Al Diamon

Missing label: One of the most frequent complaints I receive about Maine journalism concerns the haphazard nature of the Bangor Daily News website. News, editorials and blogger posts all get thrown on the home page, often with nothing to indicate what category they belong in. The BDN editors continue to insist there’s nothing confusing about this mishmash, but they’re wrong. If I get mixed up trying to sort it out, what chance does the average visitor to the site have?

Here’s the latest example of this failure to sort things out. On Jan. 3, an item showed up carrying a headline indicating the merger of the state departments of agriculture and conservation, which has already been approved by the Legislature, might not happen.

There was nothing to indicate this wasn’t a news story. No header saying “opinion.” No byline indicating it was a blog posting. Nothing. I assumed it was something the Bangor paper’s staff discovered – until I clicked on it.

In fact, the item was written by George Smith, a blogger who covers outdoor issues and relentlessly prowls the State House seeking any activity that might affect hunting, fishing and natural resources. Smith is a reliable source for information on these matters, but he’s never pretended his own views don’t color his reporting.

His opinion that the merger is in trouble is backed up by concrete evidence, so it has considerable credibility. But it’s still his opinion. Failing to label it as such is a major oversight, bad enough if it were an isolated incident, but inexcusable when it occurs regularly.

It’s time for the Bangor Daily to admit this problem exists and fix it.

Disclosure: The Bollard and the Bangor Daily News have a business relationship.

Time Warner weenies: The explanation offered by Time Warner Cable for why it’s dumping the Current TV channel from its lineup doesn’t ring true. A TWC official told the Portland Press Herald that Current was being dropped because of low ratings.

But that explanation surfaced only after the announcement that Current had been purchased by Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based news channel that’s reconfiguring it to become Al Jazeera America.

You might suppose that a cable system would adopt a wait-and-see attitude toward a little-watched channel that was about to undergo a major overhaul, figuring it had nothing to lose by delaying a decision until after the changes were made and viewer reaction could be assessed.

By acting precipitously, Time Warner leaves itself open to the criticism that it’s making the move because it objects to Al Jazeera’s editorial slant. It made itself appear as if it were censoring some sources of news.

I’m no apologist for Al Jazeera. It’s underwritten by the government of Qatar, and as such, it’s motives and biases are suspect. But that doesn’t mean I’m not interested in what it has to say. Assessing news developments from lots of different angles is an excellent way to sort out facts. Too bad Time Warner – purveyor of porn channels, pay-per-view movies to offend every sensibility, and such obviously slanted news sources as Fox News and MSNBC – doesn’t understand that.

To date, other cable systems and satellite providers in Maine haven’t announced their decisions about carrying Al Jazeera. Here’s hoping they act more sensibly than Time Warner.

Farmer plows on: David Farmer is a media consultant, one with a decent track record in political campaigns. Farmer is also a weekly columnist in the Bangor Daily News. Sometimes, his two roles get mixed up.

An uncomfortable example of that occurred on Jan. 2, when he posted his latest column. It contained gushing coverage of the first same-sex marriages performed in Maine. “The joy was real in the faces of the people who were there,” Farmer wrote. “There was singing and shouting. Tears and smiles. Hugs and high fives. As more couples emerged from [Portland] City Hall, they were welcomed with a loud celebration of their relationships.”

What Farmer neglected to mention – and no Bangor Daily editor insisted he add – is that he was the spokesman for the campaign to legalize same-sex marriage and one of the chief strategists of its successful effort at the polls last November.

If Farmer wants to revel in his victory, that’s up to him, but readers of the Bangor paper should be aware of his personal and financial interest in the matter.

Dems’ new mouthpiece: According to a posting on LinkedIn (that doesn’t seem to be accessible to nonmembers), Ann S. Kim, a Portland Press Herald reporter for the past eight years, is the new communications director for Democrats in the Maine House.

During her time at the Portland paper, Kim didn’t cover much in the way of politics, primarily writing soft features and suburban news.

Radio roundup: WZON-FM is no more. All Access reports that the Stephen King-owned station in Dover-Foxcroft has switched call letters to WZLO (103.1) and is now playing adult alternative music and calling itself “The Loft.”

Until November, the station simulcast progressive talk with WZON-AM in Bangor, also owned by King. It then switched to an all-Christmas music format for a month, before starting to play Mumford & Sons, Paul Simon and that ilk.

Meanwhile, Blueberry Broadcasting is making the most of the fewest call letters. Blueberry’s Bar Harbor station, obtained in the bankruptcy sale of Nassau Broadcasting’s assets, is now WBKA (107.7 FM). That matches up nicely with Blueberry’s Bangor outlet, WBAK (104.7 FM) and Augusta-based WABK (104.3 FM). All three are now carrying the same oldies format.

Twice dead? An alert reader sent in this gem, written by Bangor Daily News staff writer Ryan McLaughlin and posted on its website on Jan. 2:

“A York County man was found dead on Tuesday evening, and police have ruled his death a suicide.

“Department of Public Safety Spokesman Stephen McCausland said the man’s body was discovered by his wife in their Lebanon home on Sunday.”

Maybe she waited to call it in to avoid spoiling the holiday.

Al Diamon can be emailed at

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