Lots of Staff Changes at Bangor Daily News
by Al Diamon
Moving parts: The Bangor Daily News State House bureau has undergone a major realignment. Robert Long, who had been handling political analysis for the paper, has been promoted to the post of senior editor for southern Maine. Reporter Matthew Stone is now the opinion page editor. Their replacements in Augusta are Christopher Cousins, the new bureau chief and former midcoast reporter, and Mario Moretto, who had been staffing the Ellsworth office.
According to Anthony Ronzio, the paper’s director of news and new media, Stone will oversee the op-ed page, while editorial page editor Erin Rhoda will continue to run the … well, you can probably guess. “They’ll work very closely together,” said Ronzio. “It’ll take some pressure off Erin.”
Long will replace Kathleen Pierce, who was hired for the southern Maine job just a few months ago. Pierce will become a features reporter. Asked if that was a demotion, Ronzio said it was a “reassignment based on need.”
The Bangor Daily plans to hire a new staff writer to take Moretto’s place in Ellsworth.
The BDN has also hired Lewiston Sun Journal website editor Pattie Reaves as its “user experience and audience manager.” Asked what that position entailed, Ronzio said it dealt with “responsiveness to the online audience and analytics.”
Trying to kick down the closed door: On April 29, the Biddeford City Council voted to go into executive session to discuss cutting personnel costs in the municipal budget by $400,000. I don’t know if there were any reporters present when that happened, but if there were, they should have objected strenuously. Maine law doesn’t allow closed-door meetings to talk about budget matters.
A couple of weeks after the secret session, reporter Ben Meiklejohn of the weekly Biddeford Saco Old Orchard Beach Courier wrote a blog post explaining why the discussion should have been held in public. Meiklejohn, a former member of the Portland School Committee (where he had an often-contentious relationship with the media), pointed out that the open-meeting statute allows executive sessions to discuss personnel issues only if they relate to specific employees. General matters, such as budgeting, have to be kept strictly on the record.
Meiklejohn didn’t stop there. He filed requests with the city for all documents and minutes of the closed-door meeting. Biddeford officials refused to release that information. After the city budget was approved in early June, Meiklejohn again renewed his request, since any layoffs or firings would now be a matter of public record. City Hall again rejected his call for openness.
On July 2, Meiklejohn and Mainely Media LLC, the company that owns the Courier, filed a complaint in York County Superior Court seeking to have the material from the executive session released and the secret discussions declared illegal.
The city has yet to respond to the lawsuit, but it would be a wise move for it to come clean and make the material public. And if there were any reporters present back when the council first went behind closed doors, they should take a refresher course in the Maine Freedom of Access Act for future reference.
Disclosure: My weekly political column runs in the Courier.
Al Diamon can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.