Media Mutt

Report: Portland Press Herald Plans a Pay Site

by Al Diamon

Web-onomics: According to a story on the West End News website on March 25, the Portland Press Herald is planning to start charging for its online content. The brief article said that executive editor Cliff Schechtman made the announcement during a March 20 presentation at the Portland Club. Schechtman is quoted as saying the pay site will have “some sort of meter system,” which would seem to indicate that a certain number of stories would be available for free before payment was required.

Schechtman did not provide additional details, nor did he say when the new charges would be instituted.

He did say that the Press Herald also has plans for a “multi-media TV station,” but offered no further information as to what that might mean.

Under previous owner Richard Connor, the Portland paper began making plans in 2010 to charge for use of its website, but after Connor was ousted in late 2011, the project languished. Now, it appears to have been revived.

Paywalls have worked well for some national papers, most notably the New York Times, but are generally seen as most effective for smaller, local publications that offer content that can’t be found elsewhere.

It remains to be seen if online readers believe the Press Herald meets that standard.

Good reporting on bad bureaucracy: The Maine Sunday Telegram has a history of confusing quality journalism with lengthy stories. Over many years and several editors, the Telegram has wasted untold column inches on matters that could have been adequately explained in a brief. While that tendency toward bloviation continues to this day, there was an encouraging sign on March 24 that somebody at the paper has finally gained some sense of proper proportion.

Staff writer Kelley Bouchard’s front-page piece headlined “Poor planning adds to foster care crisis” was long – nearly two full pages – but it wasn’t the least bit inflated. Bouchard dug deep to uncover the incompetence that plagues the state Department of Health and Human Services’ child-welfare programs. She overcame obstructions – at one point the department wanted to charge $360 for documents she requested that later turned out to be readily available for $30. She dealt with complexities, such as the causes of a sharp increase in the need for foster care, rejecting the department’s erroneous claims that it was mostly due to bath-salts abuse. She revealed how the state doesn’t bother to analyze the information it collects on kids entering foster care to spot important trends, and showed how such an examination of the data could benefit children, families and foster parents.

Overall, a stunning piece of work that should cause heads to roll and reforms to be instituted. Here’s hoping Bouchard and her editors follow up to see that appropriate changes are made.

Here, too, is hope that this story will serve as a fine example of when an investigation should be allocated a lot of space. Bouchard used all that room to carefully explain the complicated material she discovered in clear and compelling fashion.

Unlike the usual Telegram extravaganza, she never lost focus, and she never lost my interest.

Al Diamon can be emailed at

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