How Not to Offend
Layoff lowdown: Here’s the first sentence from a front-page, top-of-the-fold story in the Bangor Daily News of Dec. 24: “Contrary to some rumors, Cianbro’s Eastern Manufacturing Facility is not laying off workers.”
Here’s what’s wrong with that sentence: Nowhere in the piece by BDN staff writer Nok-Noi Ricker is anybody at Cianbro Corp. in Brewer cited as a source for the claim that there would be no layoffs.
Nowhere in the piece does it even say the reporter tried to reach someone at Cianbro, but couldn’t.
The statement about no layoffs is based on interviews with two Brewer city officials, one of whom is quoted as saying, “I have not heard anything like that.” Another says, “The pace [of work at the facility] has really accelerated.”
Except it hasn’t. At least not anymore.
Ricker had another story in the Dec. 25 Bangor paper, this time with actual quotes from Peter Vigue, the chairman of the Cianbro. Vigue never directly addresses the no-layoffs claim (I wonder if he was asked that question), but he does say the company is hiring fewer temporary workers and that “the concept that there is going to be massive layoffs is not valid.”
He also says the accelerated schedule at the plant has been scaled back, due to less demand for the refinery modules the company is building for the oil industry.
Later in the article, Ricker quotes an employee who said he and five co-workers had been told not to report to the job site because of lack of work.
In both stories, Ricker says the company currently employs about 700 people in Brewer, but bases that claim not on her interview with Vigue, but on something the city manager said.
On Dec. 28, the Morning Sentinel in Waterville ran a story by reporter Scott Monroe in which he cites a statement by Vigue confirming that about 50 people will be laid off, while an undisclosed number of others will have their overtime – as much as 20 hours a week – eliminated.
This piece also uses the figure of 700 employees, but partially backs it up with a quote from Vigue about the workforce being “much larger than our most optimistic projections.” The company had originally predicted it would hire about 500 people in Brewer. It’s not clear from anybody’s story whether that figure is now 650.
The Bangor story and the Sentinel headline (“Cianbro hopeful about future”) both give the (perhaps unintended) impression that somebody at these papers is trying to spin this situation in the most positive light, possibly to avoid offending a company with powerful economic and political connections. Otherwise, why wouldn’t both papers have run headlines similar to those they’d use for any other business hit by a slowdown, something along the lines of “Cianbro eliminates 50 jobs”?
Welcome to the timid journalism of the recession.
Front-page low point: The Dec. 29 Lewiston Sun Journal offered potential readers an entire front page, at least for its early editions and its Web home page, that contained not one staff-produced story. The closest the SJ came to actual reporting was a photo of patrons of a Lewiston sports bar lamenting the New England Patriots’ failure to make the playoffs. The closest the paper came to local news was an the annual Associated Press listing of the top stories in Maine this year. The rest of the space was filled with national and world wire copy.
Welcome to the lame non-journalism of the recession.
Attribution low point: The Maine Sunday Telegram’s Dec. 28 story on the state’s new statute covering adoption records contains an odd twist on standard reporting methods in this sentence on the law’s passage in the Legislature: “About three-quarters of the House supported the bill, and two-thirds of the Senate, according to Bobbi Beavers of South Berwick [organizer of a group to help adoptees get more information on their birth parents].”
Legislative votes are public records. Competent reporters look them up. They don’t take the word of advocates for the measure.
Welcome to lazy journalism.
Low priority Web? The Bangor Daily News scooped itself on a Dec. 28 article by reporter Sharon Kiley Mack on proposed new rules for dog breeders. The BDN offered the piece to other Maine papers as part of the story-sharing system among Maine dailies, but since the 28th was a Sunday and Bangor doesn’t publish a Sunday edition, Mack’s article first hit print in the Maine Sunday Telegram.
Surely, though, the BDN beat its rival by posting the piece on its Web site before the Telegram could hit the streets.
The dog-breeding story wasn’t on Bangor’s site at mid-day on Sunday (nor was it on the Telegram’s site), but did finally show up online on Monday, Dec. 29, when it also appeared in the BDN’s print edition. By then, though, lots of people had already read it somewhere else.
Welcome to the Web manager’s indifference to journalism.
Low accuracy rate: From the Dec. 27 Portland Press Herald, page B1:
“If the Patriots beat the Bills (7-8) Sunday and the Jets (9-6) beat the Dolphins (10-5), the Patriots get in as AFC East champs.”
From the Dec. 27 Press Herald, page B4: “New England clinches the division title with a win over Buffalo and a loss by the Jets.”
Welcome to journalism that makes everybody happy.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.