Maine Media Does Adequate Job Covering Boston Bombing
by Al Diamon
Maine news organizations reacted quickly on April 15 to the bomb explosions at the Boston Marathon. Within a few hours, there were solid reports on the conditions of most of the Mainers running in the race.
For instance, the Village Soup newspapers in the Midcoast produced a detailed report, relying in part on someone identified as “Reade Brower of Camden, a local runner.” The story would have been better if it had included a disclaimer noting that Brower owns the papers. Or, if by some odd coincidence, this isn’t the same Brower, perhaps a note to that effect would have been in order.
On television, the lack of accurate information in the hours after the attack resulted in Maine stations hauling in anything that looked like an expert. WCSH-TV in Portland dredged up a retired public relations guy for some federal agencies to explain the obvious, that incidents like this one prompted numerous departments to go on high alert.
It served the purpose of filling time without filling in any of the holes.
WGME-TV in Portland had various running officials on the set telling viewers they didn’t know much. After a few minutes of that, I switched back to CNN.
The Portland Press Herald had a reporter in Boston covering the race, but he was locked down in a nearby hotel during the crucial period after the explosions, which meant he contributed little. In an oddity, his brief online posting saying he didn’t know anything showed up on the Press Herald’s website before a wire-service story reporting on the attack, causing curious readers like me to go elsewhere for information. In short order, though, the paper ramped up its efforts and managed reasonably comprehensive coverage.
There was some unintentionally silly stuff, such as the Kennebec Journal’s discovery that a guy with a tenuous connection to its circulation area (he had once attended a local high school) owned a store near the blast site.
The KJ’s story wasn’t even the result of its own efforts. It was based on an interview the store owner gave by telephone to WCSH. As Portland public-relations expert Dennis Bailey pointed out on his blog, the article buried the real news, which was that the man claimed he knew which trash can the bomb had been placed in, an assertion that later events indicated was probably incorrect. To my not very great surprise, neither the newspaper nor the TV station bothered to follow up with a correction.
In general, Maine reporters and editors got most of the information the local audience wanted. They were fairly prompt and usually accurate. There was some trivial filler, particularly on TV, but little that was exploitive or needlessly sensational.
An acceptable job. No reason for hearty backslapping, but it would be good if this experience resulted in some careful consideration of how all concerned could do a better job when the next crisis hits.
Al Diamon can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.