Ethically, It's Not All Happening Here
Doug’s other discovery: Doug Rafferty, a feature reporter and former anchor at WGME-TV in Portland, is appearing in a promotional spot on the station for a 30-minute program about what a news release calls the “renaissance” of the cities of Lewiston and Auburn. In the ad, Rafferty repeats the economic development motto of the two municipalities: “L-A: It’s Happening Here.”
According to the news release from the Lewiston-Auburn Economic Growth Council,
Rafferty will host the show, which is scheduled to air three times this month on Channel 13. While some viewers might assume that because of Rafferty’s presence, this is a news program, they’d be mistaken. The show’s executive producer is Paul Badeau, the growth council’s marketing director. In the news release, Badeau makes it clear this program won’t be a warts-and-all examination of the two cities, but rather a public-relations piece on L-A’s “newfound reputation of being a dynamic community where exciting projects flourish.”
In a brief telephone conversation, WGME news director Robb Atkinson said Rafferty’s reporting at the station is limited to “Doug’s Discovery,” a weekly feature segment that airs during newscasts and occasional soft-news pieces. Atkinson said he was in the middle of another phone call and promised to call back to answer questions about the show and the ethics of Rafferty’s involvement in it, but had not done so by the time this piece was posted several hours later.
In general, most journalists avoid involvement in local economic development efforts, because such projects are often the subject of news stories and may be controversial. Allowing Rafferty to host what appears to be an infomercial for commercial interests might give the appearance that the news department is endorsing or attempting to curry favor with specific developers.
WGME’s Web site does give some indication that Rafferty is not strictly a journalist. It says he serves as “a spokesman for a number of WGME campaigns” and “he frequently works with the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, teaching recruits about police-media relations.”
This isn’t the first time Channel 13 has blurred the lines between news and promotion. Anchor Kim Block’s recent trip to China was underwritten by a local charitable foundation, whose health-care work was prominently featured.
News staffers have also been involved in producing promotional materials for a local movie theater and for federal security screeners at the Portland Jetport.
Rex’s other wire service: Among those attending CNN’s three-day, all-expenses-paid conference in Atlanta last week to discuss the cable network’s plans to set up a new wire service to compete with the Associated Press was Lewiston Sun Journal executive editor Rex Rhoades.
According to Editor & Publisher’s Web site, the Sun Journal has already given the AP the required two-year notice that it will be dropping the service in November 2010. Rhoades said he was considering CNN’s new wire as a possible replacement.
"I would see them as an interesting component of a package of services that could replace AP for us," he said, adding that he was "impressed with the willingness and eagerness of CNN to have us as a customer. AP has never sought that kind of input from us."
Rhoades told E&P that even though AP’s new rate structure would reduce his annual bill by $16,000, it would cost him $136,000 a year. "That still represents maybe three reporter jobs here,” he said.
The Bangor Daily News’ other country: Most Maine news organizations do a lousy job of covering Canada, even though much of the state has closer ties to that country than to the rest of the United States. But the Bangor Daily News has been something of an exception, at least in recent weeks. The paper has given prominent play to wire service stories about our northern neighbor’s current governmental crisis, sometimes playing the articles on the front page. For that. it deserves credit for good news sense.
For not putting the same stories on its Web site, the BDN deserves a demerit for poor news sense.
The BDN’s other measurement: On Dec. 5, the Bangor paper ran what appeared to be a press release from Fraser Paper announcing that over the holidays, its mill in Madawaska would take “5,100 tons of downtime.”
I’m not sure what the equivalent of that weight of idleness might be in real time, although there’s some indication in the rest of the brief story that it’s about 10 days. A sharp copy editor would have explained or eliminated the unfamiliar jargon in an ounce of newstime.
The Press Herald’s other conflict: The Portland Press Herald was careful to mention its possible conflict of interest in a Dec. 5 front-page story by staff writer John Richardson on efforts to clean up Long Creek in South Portland.
The paper’s printing plant is one of many properties near the watershed cited for excessive storm-water runoff, which means the Press Herald could be required by the feds to take steps to prevent pollutants from washing into the stream.
But the PPH didn’t do so well when it ran a Dec. 7 wire story on the McClatchy Co.’s financial woes and its attempts to sell the Miami Herald (this article doesn’t appear on the Press Herald’s Web site). This piece didn’t merit a disclaimer, even though McClatchy owns 49.5 percent of the paper and its parent, the Seattle Times. McClatchy has no voice in company operations, but does share in the Maine paper’s profits and losses.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com.