Portland Press Herald’s Week That Wasn’t
by Al Diamon
Technical difficulties: If some other well known company had had the kind of computer problems the Portland Press Herald experienced this week, it would have been front page news. But the newspaper’s owner, MaineToday Media, is about as transparent as the National Security Agency, so coverage has been limited to brief notices claiming the difficulties were due to “a technical issue involving a vendor.”
That might have been sufficient the first day. Or the second. But the Press Herald is now in its fourth day of failing to deliver its product normally. It’s well past time somebody in authority sucked it up and told us what the matter is and when it’ll be fixed.
The problem seems to have begun sometime on June 11. First, the Press Herald’s website went down for most of the morning. Then, several stories set to appear in the June 12 paper’s local section were truncated, with the parts after the jump from the front page vanishing. By the time readers noticed they’d only received half of what they’d paid for, the website was gone again, so there was no finding out what had been missed by going online. (The missing stuff showed up in the next day’s paper, displacing whatever news had happened in the meantime.) The website came and went on June 13, and although it was functioning again on June 14, content from the previous few days was missing.
MaineToday is planning to start charging readers for its online product in the near future. It also just raised prices for its Sunday papers and plans to do the same for its dailies. To justify that grab for cash, reliable delivery of the news is the minimum to be expected by customers. By that less-than-onerous standard, this week was an epic fail.
An apology is in order – from the top.
Forgiveness follow-up: On June 13, the Press Herald broke the news (in a story that no longer seems to be online) that Gov. Paul LePage had written to a Bowdoin man who’d criticized his efforts to help victims of arson fires in Lewiston. In his brief note, LePage claimed he “forgave $400,000 in loans owed by the City of Lewiston.”
That was a surprise to nearly everyone, including the city of Lewiston, but it turned out to be true. The governor had cancelled repayment of an old transportation loan of some sort. The story by staff writer Noel K. Gallagher isn’t too clear on the details. In fact, the version posted online didn’t even contain confirmation about the debt’s existence, making it appear LePage had made that up. I’ll give the paper the benefit of the doubt and chalk that up to the above-mentioned computer problems.
But now it’s two days later and there are still all these questions hanging in the air. When did Lewiston get the money? What did it do with it? Did it ever repay any of it? If so, how much? If not, why? Who exactly is owed the money? Now that LePage has forgiven the debt, who has to eat the loss? Is it the taxpayers? And under what authority can the governor allow municipalities to opt out of paying their obligations?
Somebody ought to be interested enough to find this stuff out. If the Press Herald is too distracted by computer malfunctions, perhaps the Sun Journal could be persuaded to look into what’s going on right in its own hometown.
Complaint coverage: In April, Gov. LePage tried to justify an alleged scolding he gave hearing officers for unemployment claims appeals by insisting he had received “hundreds” of complaints from businesses about a “one-sided system” that favored workers.
Most of the media expressed mild skepticism about LePage’s claim, but the Sun Journal’s Christopher Williams (who broke the story in the first place) went further. Williams requested copies of all the complaints.
On June 14, he published the results showing that, in a not uncommon occurrence, LePage had greatly overstated the number and nature of gripes from businesses.
It’s nice to know that not every journalist in the state is so distracted by Zumba trials and political posturing that they’ve forgotten the need for a little fact-checking.
Al Diamon can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.