Stories So Good MaineToday Media Ran Them Twice
by Al Diamon
Better the second time? Follow-up is an important part of journalism. After an initial report, new sources sometimes emerge, fresh details are uncovered, reaction from various constituencies flows in. But follow-up is not the same as fluff-up. In a couple of recent cases, the MaineToday Media newspapers pumped nothing more than a bit of hot air into deflating scoops and then rolled them out a second time.
On March 16, the publisher of the Portland Press Herald, Maine Sunday Telegram, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel printed a decent piece by Washington bureau chief Kevin Miller on the possibility a missile-interceptor site might be located in northern Maine.
On March 17, Miller was back with a fluff-up.
The second article led off with reaction from town officials in Limestone — even though there’s no guarantee that’s the area under consideration for the project. It also recycled some national news about the interceptor program (it apparently doesn’t work very well) that could have been in the first story, but wasn’t. Other than that, it was a rehash, including a repeat of some canned quotes from U.S. Sen. Susan Collins.
In short, MaineToday customers paid twice for the same information. And that wasn’t the only time this happened.
On March 17, MTM’s David Hench had a long, long story about an incident last June, during which a state prison official discharged pepper pray into the face of a restrained inmate. The official was fired, but his appeal was successful and he was eventually reinstated after a 30-day suspension.
Even though the events depicted were nine months old, they were legitimately newsworthy and raised important questions about the treatment of mentally ill prisoners. But given the amount of space Hench had to work with – over a full page – it’s odd that he couldn’t find room for reaction from legislators who oversee the corrections system. Instead, he relied for perspective on outside experts with no direct knowledge of what happened.
Oh wait, here are the legislators. They show up on March 18 in a second story that contains nothing new except word that they plan to look into the situation.
The rest of the article is a repeat of the previous day’s reporting.
If MaineToday is so desperate to fill its news hole that it has to regurgitate old stuff, it should at least look to stories with legitimate need for additional ink. For instance, it still hasn’t followed up on the state investigation of an Auburn medical marijuana cultivating site. It has yet to offer a side-by-side comparison of the competing plans for leasing the state’s wholesale liquor operation. The rival Bangor Daily News had a fine piece on March 16 on the hazy recordkeeping that makes it tough to assess the financial health of Maine hospitals. Maybe MTM could jump on that.
Or maybe it could do something on the benefits of recycling.
Agenda bender: I attended my local town meeting on March 13, and I wasn’t surprised that no reporters were in attendance. The only remotely controversial item up for a vote concerned whether Carrabassett Valley would support an application for an economic development grant for the developers of a bowling alley and entertainment center. After some debate, the measure was approved by a lopsided margin.
Three days later, the Morning Sentinel got around to reporting on what happened. Sorta.
The March 16 story by staff writer Kaitlin Schroeder suffered from a headline that said the town had approved a budget of “$1.8.” A buck eighty? Only off by a factor of a million.
Even worse was Schroeder’s take on the grant. She seemed to think the project was owned by the Sugarloaf ski resort, telling her readers, “The grant stipulates that Sugarloaf must create 10 full-time jobs at the center.”
While Sugarloaf owns the land where the bowling alley will be built, it has leased the acreage to local developers unaffiliated with the mountain. They’re the ones who are building the facility and are on the hook for the new jobs.
All that is clearly explained in the town warrant, something Schroeder should have had handy (it’s available online) before she tried to cover a meeting that happened two days before by phone.
Al Diamon can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.