Media Mutt

Investigative Overkill

by Al Diamon

Too much information: I’m happy to see the Kennebec Journal doing some investigative reporting. I’m happy the paper devoted considerable resources to a local story of the sort that’s all too easily overlooked. I’m even happy it showed up on the front page.

You know what the next word is.


As in: But it’s difficult to understand how the KJ’s editors could have decided that Michael Shepherd’s series on a botched attempt last August to solve a crime involving the theft of a set of golf clubs could possibly have merited nearly three full pages over two days.

The story, headlined “Looking Down The Barrel of a Gun,” ran on Feb. 24 and 25.

Although the sub-headlines hinted at political favoritism (“Winthrop police chief drew his pistol on an innocent man over stolen golf clubs in a sting set up as a favor to a ‘family friend’ – the son of the town attorney”) and corruption (“Winthrop town attorney denies knowledge of a police sting involving his son. Was it ‘vigilante justice’ or good police work?”), the actual articles fell short of the hype.

As Shepherd is forced to concede, no crime was committed by town officials, and no one was injured. The police chief handled the matter in a clumsy and questionable manner. The town lawyer probably used his connections to get the cops to devote more effort than they would have to a low-priority matter. That’s about the extent of what he uncovered.

Worth writing about? Certainly. These sorts of small-town interactions are of interest to residents who want to know how their municipal government is operating. And it’s important for local officials to know that somebody is keeping an eye on their activities. But there’s nothing here that couldn’t have been adequately covered in one 12-inch piece. Blowing this matter up to an excessive level has the effect of calling the newspaper’s motivation into question and reducing the credibility of its reporting.

There have to be more significant matters to dig into and devote multiple parts and pages to reporting. Here’s hoping Shepherd and the KJ learned something from this experience and will put their resources to better use in the future.

For instance: Lewiston Sun Journal reporter Daniel Hartill did a first-rate job of placing a problem in perspective in his Feb. 24 story on how Lewiston seems to be getting a bargain rate on inmates it sends to the Androscoggin County Jail, while other towns would appear to be paying more than their fair share. Hartill did some serious digging into a complicated and controversial situation. He then laid out what he’d learned clearly and concisely in about one quarter of the space Shepherd took up.

App-ology: I erred last week when I said the Portland Press Herald had given up on its mobile app. As several readers pointed out, the version for Apple products is still around.

What doesn’t seem to exist is the Android app, which was promised when the program was launched in 2011.

I’m told new apps for both platforms are in the works.

TV almost-news: Claims by supporters of a proposed east-west highway across Maine that they’ve been threatened by opponents of the project are nothing new. They’ve been reported on several times over the past year by the print media. But that didn’t stop WGME-TV in Portland from running the story again on Feb. 26.

Or, to be more accurate, part of the story.

The Channel 13 version included allegations by a prominent east-west backer of harassment by “radical environmental groups.” It didn’t contain much evidence for that claim. Nor did it include reaction to the charge from those seeking to stop the project. All the WGME reporter did was attempt to reach Earth First, but when he didn’t get a response, he failed to ask any of the more credible – and more accessible – organizations opposing the road.

The result: a biased, partial story that’s severely out of date.

Buzz about Cutler: Bob Higgins, a regular contributor to the Portland Daily Sun, has a new sideline. Higgins has launched a website called “The Cutler Flies.”

Its purpose: “I have a plan, a strategy to completely marginalize a certain potential candidate for Governor of Maine in 2014,” Higgins wrote.

The site’s name is a play on “The Secret File on Eliot Cutler,” more commonly known as “The Cutler Files.” In 2010, the once-anonymous authors of that project listed all the dirt they could dig up on Eliot Cutler, but ended up mostly smearing themselves. Higgins promises not to repeat their mistakes, but failed to include his name in his first posting and had to correct that oversight in a hurry.

Free the English language: From the Undercover Porcupine blog by Chris Dixon on the Bangor Daily News website, Feb. 25:

“One of the most cherished freedoms in this country are the right to vote and the right to assemble.”

Two of the most important lessons of grammar is to know the difference between singular and plural.

Al Diamon can be emailed at

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