Media Mutt

Number Bumblers

by Al Diamon

Watt’s wrong: The mistake began with a Reuters story posted on the Bangor Daily News website on April 30 and containing additional material from BDN  business editor Whit Richardson. It said NextEra Energy Resources planned to sell its oil-fired power plants in Maine “which have a generating capacity of 796 megawatts.”

Two paragraphs later, the article states that among the properties on the market is the “822-megawatt Wyman power plant on Cousins Island in Yarmouth.”

You’d think an editor might notice the second figure is bigger than the first, and try to correct the discrepancy, but that didn’t happen. The same mistake showed up in the next day’s print edition.

Once it’s on paper, it must be true, so Mainebiz magazine grabbed the item for its online newsletter, complete with the erroneous figures.

The Portland Press Herald ran its own story, citing the 822-megawatt number for Wyman, but making no mention of the total capacity of all the plants being sold.

Which makes the Portland paper correct – by omission.

It’s not just simple arithmetic that confuses reporters. It’s also words about math. A May 1 piece by Bangor Daily State House reporter Matthew Stone somehow concludes that the tax overhaul proposed by a bipartisan group of Maine legislators is “revenue neutral, so it would simply change how the state collects taxes, rather than the amount.”

As Maine Public Radio and the Portland Press Herald first reported a couple of days earlier, the tax plan would take in about $700 million in additional cash, which isn’t even remotely revenue neutral. It would appear Stone got confused by the bill’s supporters, who tried to spin their proposed tax hike as “budget neutral,” meaning it didn’t increase spending in the next budget. Even that claim is spurious, as it contains tax credits and property tax rollbacks that don’t currently exist.

Remedial economics, anyone?

No notice on notices: I give credit to the Village Soup newspapers for running an editorial in this week’s editions (unfortunately, it’s behind a paywall) on the Maine Press Association’s efforts to maintain a lucrative, taxpayer-funded source of revenue. I give credit not because I think the reasoning in that editorial is sharp or the point is correct. It’s just that this is the only place I’ve seen any mention of L.D. 1344, which would, in the words of the editorialist, “require municipalities to continue publishing legal notices in their town’s paper of record in print and to also publish them on that paper’s website.”

This looks like a straight-up money grab by the state’s struggling newspaper industry. And that seems to be the way the Legislature’s State and Local Government Committee saw it, giving the bill an ought-not-to-pass recommendation.

But what’s most disturbing here is that, until this opinion piece appeared, there’d been no mention of the measure in the Maine press. That makes it look as though the media moguls were hoping the bill would slip through unnoticed, a disingenuous approach for a business that has decried past attempts to eliminate publication of these public notices as an attack on transparency in government.

Al Diamon can be emailed at


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