LePage, Newspapers Bitch at Each Other
by Al Diamon
Bully pulpits: Republican Gov. Paul LePage and Maine’s daily newspapers have used their prominent positions in recent days to whine loudly about how badly each is being treated by the other. They should both do the public a big favor and shut up.
LePage got it going in his Aug. 30 weekly radio address, when he listed several positive developments for the Maine economy that he claimed the news media had ignored.
“Most of these announcements I mentioned received not so much as a byline,” the governor claimed. “But it’s not because our Administration isn’t sharing this information with reporters. It’s simply because the media has the power to pick and choose what is news. It’s a fast-moving digital age in which reporters would rather tweet than write an investigative report and where doom-and-gloom headlines are sensationalized.”
As the Portland Press Herald’s Steve Mistler pointed out in a blog posting, every one of the events LePage mentioned had been covered in the paper. The Bangor Daily News’ Christopher Cousins made the same point in his blog, emphasizing the governor’s refusal to be interviewed by Maine print reporters, and including an utterly unconvincing explanation from LePage’s press secretary as to why he only speaks to the national media (“Those reporters were more specific in their requests”).
Most of the negative coverage the governor has received has been his own fault for saying impolitic things and failing to adequately explain his positions. He could correct some of that by developing professional relationships with at least a couple of the print reporters who regularly cover him, which would guarantee his voice would get in their stories. His failure to do that has cost him and will continue to do so until he acknowledges his mistake.
That said, the news media is hardly blameless in fostering an adversarial relationship with the governor. In an Aug. 30 advertisement (not posted online) in the Times Record, publisher Larry Hubner urges readers to subscribe now to avoid a new five-percent sales tax on newspapers that goes into effect Oct. 1. Hubner goes on to say, “As much as we disagree with the policy that appears to be an ideological war, it is the law and we will comply.” Then he added, “This will impact you, our readers, the mom and pop convenience stores and chains that sell newspapers, and will impact even our carriers — small independent business people — who collect from route customers. Online subscriptions will also be taxed.”
The tax was part of LePage’s budget, one of a small number of revenue enhancers that he proposed (in spite of insisting he was opposed to any tax increase), and was almost certainly intended to be a big extended middle finger to the state’s newspapers. But it’s scarcely unreasonable. Books are subject to the sales tax, as are televisions, radios and electronic devices. As for Hubner’s claim that it would negatively impact business, the same could be said for any sales-tax expansion. There’s likely to be nothing special about its effect on newspapers.
Quit your griping.
Media sales: Two Maine weekly newspapers and four Portland radio stations will soon have new owners.
The York Weekly and York County Coast Star have been sold to the Newcastle Investment Corp., which is owned by the Fortress Investment Group. The two papers were part of a larger deal involving the Seacoast Media Group, which includes the Portsmouth Herald and other New Hampshire properties. Seacoast is part of the Dow Jones Local Media Group, which in turn was part of News Corp until this month’s sale.
Newcastle plans to turn management of the papers over to GateHouse Media, which owns more than 400 daily and weekly papers across the country. GateHouse just filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection because it’s $1.2 billion in the red, but much of that debt is owed to Newcastle, so the situation is expected to work itself out to the financial advantage of all involved.
The move was not unexpected, since Cumulus sold its other Maine stations in Bangor, Augusta and Presque Isle to Townsquare last year.
Moss grows: Former WMTW-TV news anchor Shannon Moss is returning to the airwaves as host of her own interview show – a business arrangement that raises an interesting ethical question.
According to the story posted on the Portland Press Herald’s website on Sept. 4, Moss, who was dismissed from ratings-challenged Channel 8 in June, will own the program called “Split Screen with Shannon Moss.” Apparently, she’ll be buying time on WPME (Channel 35) and WPXT (Channel 51) to air the 30-minute show twice a month. That means Moss will be responsible not only for the program’s content – interviews with newsmakers and other interesting people – but also for its advertising. Having one person in charge of both sets up conditions that are ripe for conflict of interest or the appearance thereof. For instance, advertisers could insist on interviews for their executives or dealers.
It’ll be worth watching to see if Moss, a 14-year veteran of Portland TV news, can avoid that taint.
Meanwhile, at Moss’s old employer, reporter Steve Minich has been named co-anchor of WMTW’s new 5 p.m. newscast, sharing duties with Tracy Sabol.
Connor makes a deal: Former MaineToday Media CEO Richard Connor, ousted in 2011 over allegations he looted more than $500,000 from the company, has settled a federal lawsuit over similar claims at another newspaper company he headed. Connor allegedly owed Wilkes-Barre Publishing, in Pennsylvania, $250,000 in unpaid loans. The case was closed after payment of an undisclosed amount of money.
Connor is currently a consultant at Foster’s Daily Democrat in Dover, N.H.
Insurance omission: Morning Sentinel reporter Matt Hongoltz-Hetling had an interesting piece in the Sept. 1 paper on the consequences of being involved in an automobile accident with an uninsured motorist.
While Hongoltz-Hetling correctly pointed out that such incidents can be devastating financially for the innocent victim, he neglected to mention that Maine law requires all policies sold in the state to include coverage for claims involving the uninsured. That amount must equal the liability coverage on the policy. So, if a driver has $50,000 in liability insurance, he or she also has 50 grand in coverage if there’s an accident involving somebody with no insurance.
As a legal expert familiar with such cases told me, “The real problem is that most people carry too little insurance. … For someone seriously injured, $50K or even $100K (which is what most people carry) is not enough. The way for people to be protected is not more laws but for people to buy more liability coverage for themselves, which will provide more [uninsured motorist] coverage.”
That’s a point that should have been covered in this story.
Covering corrections: Lewiston Sun Journal staff writer Daniel Hartill deserves a tip of the cap for his fine Sept. 1 piece on the plusses and minuses of building a new state prison in Windham. Hartill’s extensive coverage provided real insight into the problems faced by the Department of Corrections and the possible solutions. This well balanced report should serve as a model for other journalists.
In addition to serving as The Bollard’s media critic, Al Diamon writes a weekly political column that runs in the Portland Phoenix, the Downeast Coastal Press, the Daily Bulldog, some Mainely Media weeklies and some Current Publishing papers. He also writes columns for a couple of Current’s magazines. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.