Maine Public Broadcasting Dreams of Expansion
by Al Diamon
Help wanted – maybe: The Maine Public Broadcasting Network has some ambitious plans for the next five years. New chief executive officer Mark Vogelzang and his staff have developed long-range proposals that call for adding as many as 15 or 20 new positions in the news department.
Vogelzang is scheduled to present his vision of where MPBN should go between now and 2018 to his board of trustees on Feb. 5. In a phone interview, he said the report focuses on three main areas: improving journalism, making MPBN programming available on all digital platforms and finding new ways to sustain and grow the operation.
He said development of the plan began just as Republican Gov. Paul LePage called for cutting off all state subsidies to public broadcasting. Vogelzang said he didn’t want the process to be overshadowed by that factor: “I said, ‘It’s time to think about growing, rather than contracting.’”
That doesn’t mean MPBN will soon be launching a nightly news program on television or expanding its radio news programs to weekends. Instead, Vogelzang wants to improve what’s already there.
His vision calls for the extra reporters “to produce more long pieces, more in-depth pieces … more reporters in parts of the state where we don’t have anyone now, such as the far north, the far south, down east and out west. The idea is to strengthen our current programs.”
He said the goal of adding more than a dozen new staffers (several reporters for both radio and the Maine Watch TV show, as well as some production people) “depends on fundraising.”
“This is really a long-term goal to see what we could do if we were aspirational,” Vogelzang said. “Every five-year plan I’ve ever been involved with looks very different at the end than it did in the beginning.”
Reporting on ourselves: The Maine Public Broadcasting Network runs a disclaimer in stories involving the Maine Education Association, noting that “some employees” of MPBN are represented by the union.
A listener e-mailed to ask if those represented employees include the reporters doing those pieces, and if so, whether the disclaimer should mention that fact.
MPBN news director Keith Shortall said all of his staff, except himself and deputy news director Susan Sharon, belong to the MEA.
“It’s an arguable point,” Shortall said when asked if that information should be included in relevant stories. “That’s the disclaimer we’ve been using for 20 years, I think.… I’ve never had anyone from the public say I’m unclear about that.”
Which could be because the public didn’t know. Which is the whole point of including clear disclaimers.
It should be obvious MPBN has a serious conflict of interest here. With the MEA involved in controversies over education policy and school funding, not to mention its significant political donations in the last election, it would seem that a lot more transparency is required. At a minimum, any reporter covering these issues should make it clear that he or she belongs to the MEA. Even better would be to have non-members Shortall, Sharon or a freelancer handle all stories involving the MEA, while using an upgraded disclaimer that makes the relationship — and the potential conflict – clearer.
Covering the Legislature: Maine Public Broadcasting’s new channel providing live coverage of the Maine House, Senate (sometimes) and budget hearings was scheduled to debut on Feb. 4. I couldn’t watch because it’s not on satellite services such as DirecTV or Dish, and there’s no over-the-air signal here in the boonies (if there were, it would show up on Channel 10.4 in southern Maine and 12.4 in the Bangor area). I’m told it’s on Time Warner Cable’s digital tier on channel 181, and in various spots on smaller cable systems.
The Associated Press has a story about the launch, but neglected to include any information on how to access the new channel, because why would anyone want to know that?
Redding alert: WCSH-TV in Portland and WLBZ-TV in Bangor have a new news director. According to a news release from the Gannett-owned stations, Mike Redding will start work on Feb. 25. Redding had been executive producer at Gannett’s WFMY-TV in Greensboro, N.C. and has worked as a managing editor and writing coach at other stations and for consultants, none of them in Maine.
Redding replaces Maureen O’Brien, who resigned abruptly last November as a result of conflicts with management.
Hell freezes over: A local television news department has produced some quality journalism. No, really.
WCSH’s Kathleen Shannon did this solid report on the impact on commuters of increased tolls on the Maine Turnpike, a topic that got plenty of coverage before the higher rates took effect, but has been little noticed since. Shannon makes a complicated system comprehensible and even includes some tips for getting a better deal out of EZ Passes.
If the boob tube featured more pieces like this, I might watch when I wasn’t getting paid to do so.
Al Diamon can be emailed at email@example.com.