Media Mutt

Trying to Get a Word or Two Out of A Poet

by Al Diamon

Drawing a blank-o: How did the Maine news media do in covering a resident of the state who was chosen by President Barack Obama to be the official poet at his second inauguration?

Not too badly, for the most part.

On Jan. 9, the White House announced that Richard Blanco of Bethel will read his work at Obama’s swearing-in. The local media got on the phone, but most of them got nowhere. Blanco turned down nearly all requests for interviews, limiting himself to talking to the New York Times (which broke the story), National Public Radio and Maine Public Radio.

The Times and NPR devoted their coverage to national concerns. MPR had an interesting piece touching on Blanco’s feelings about living in Maine.

The state’s largest papers were shut out, but the Portland Press Herald and Bangor Daily News handled Blanco’s refusal to talk pretty well.

At the Portland paper, reporter Tom Bell talked to a range of people who know the poet in various capacities, provided a lot of informative background and used a few quotes from the NPR story. A credible job in the face of a freeze-out.

In Bangor, arts and lifestyle writer Emily Burnham got the assignment and the same lack of comment from the subject. Burnham made do with a friend of Blanco’s and another poet familiar with his work. Not as impressive as Bell’s piece, but adequate.

At the Lewiston Sun Journal, the institutional indifference to quality journalism was on full display. In spite of the fact that Blanco lives in its circulation area, the paper ran Burnham’s story (it actually printed a longer version than did the Bangor Daily). Its only contribution was a single sentence: “The Sun Journal made several attempts to reach Blanco on Wednesday, but he was not available for comment.”

Considering that the Lewiston paper has a bureau in Oxford County and owns a couple of weeklies there, it’s past all understanding how it could punt on a national story in its backyard. Or it would be if this sort of thing didn’t happen all the time.

Genetically unmodified coverage: On Jan. 8, the Portland Press Herald did it again. The paper allowed food columnist Avery Yale Kamila to write another news story about a federal court case involving the chemical company Monsanto and its patents for genetically altered seeds.

As noted here last year when Kamila wrote her first alleged news story on this issue, she’s also produced several columns opposing Monsanto’s position and praising its opponents. She’s taken sides in this fight and can’t suddenly set aside her views to pose as an objective observer.

Perhaps someone at the Press Herald realized they’d made a mistake – again – because the latest Kamila story has disappeared from the paper’s website. So far, though, no explanation or apology in print or online.

No info: The latest Arbitron ratings for radio stations in the Portland-Lewiston, Greater Bangor and Augusta-Waterville markets were released this week, but the company is no longer making public figures for any stations that don’t subscribe to its service. Because most stations in all three areas take a pass, the few numbers available are essentially meaningless.

It used to be fairly easy to get somebody to leak the results, but because Arbitron now has so few customers in Maine – just one in most markets – it’s too easy to pinpoint the source of the leak. And Arbitron is downright nasty about unauthorized sharing of its research.

Kicking ’em when they’re down: Headline on a letter to the editor in the Jan. 9 Morning Sentinel:

“Tougher punishment needed for abused pets”

It’s the only way to teach them not to be so pathetic.

Al Diamon can be emailed at

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