Sorry, But We Don't Work Late
After-hours aftermath: When the Maine Legislature ended its 2009 session shortly after 2 a.m. on June 13, most of the state’s media were nowhere to be seen. Even though legislators were still debating such important issues as highway funding and a bond package into the wee hours, reporters for a majority of the state’s dailies and broadcast outlets had already packed it in. Across most of Maine, that morning’s papers would carry nothing on the adjournment and – even more puzzling – they’d post nothing on their Web sites.
Here’s a rundown of how the print media handled this important story.
The Portland Press Herald did a credible job – at first. Staff writer Matt Wickenheiser hung on until the final gavel fell and posted a complete story on the Web.
I’m not sure if Wickenheiser’s piece made it into the Press Herald’s city edition (a reasonably comprehensive story showed up in earlier editions), but all the information was readily available online.
Trouble is, that’s the only place news the Legislature had finished its work showed up for readers outside greater Portland. There was no wrap-up or analysis in the June 14 Maine Sunday Telegram and nothing in the June 15 Press Herald. Considering the potential impacts of legislators’ last-minute decisions, it seems incredible that no editor assigned any additional stories. Maybe they were all too distracted by the impending sale of the paper (although they didn’t bother to publish anything on that, either, even though the closing seems to be common knowledge).
The Bangor Daily News would have scored highly in this competition – except the paper’s piece on adjournment didn’t run until two days after the event.
BDN reporter Kevin Miller kept his readers fully informed until about midnight on Friday. But as Saturday, June 13 rolled around, the paper stopped updating its Web site. What’s weird is, Miller was obviously still working. His June 15 print piece has all the details of the Legislature’s last gasp. But somebody apparently decided there was no need to share them with online readers for 48 hours. The public can wait a couple of days, the BDN apparently figured, or it can glean whatever it can from the sketchy story the Associated Press sent to radio and TV stations.
The Morning Sentinel in Waterville and Kennebec Journal in Augusta, both owned by the same company as the Press Herald, didn’t bother to post Wickenheiser’s article on their Web sites or use his earlier version in their print editions. They also had nothing from their own State House reporter, Susan Cover. The two papers seemed be pretending the whole thing didn’t happen, although the Sentinel did carry an AP story on the bond package on Sunday (which didn’t get posted online). The highway budget? The actual adjournment? An assessment of what it all means? Who cares?
The Sun Journal in Lewiston offered up its usual inept performance. Nothing on the Legislature’s final hours made it online or in print on Saturday. On Sunday, the paper ran an out-of-date AP brief from Friday night claiming the highway budget was “snarled in the House.”
By the time that gem made it into print, the budget had long since passed, and legislators had gone home. But nobody told the Sun Journal’s editors. They also offered up a piece from staff writer Rebekah Metzler detailing the session’s accomplishments. It had obviously been written before the highway and bond debates, since it contains no mention of either. It also carried the curious headline “Almost a wrap,” even though by the time it ran, the wrapping was complete. The piece wasn’t posted on the paper’s Web site. Probably just as well.
The Statehouse News Service, which supplies stories to the Times Record in Brunswick and the Journal Tribune in Biddeford as well as to a number of weeklies, seems to have been caught napping. By early afternoon Monday, neither of those afternoon dailies had posted a story on their Web sites. The Village Soup papers (where my weekly political column runs) had a staff-produced piece online on Monday morning. If any other weekly was carrying the news by then, I couldn’t find it.
Mal Leary of the Capitol News Service, hung in until the bitter end Saturday morning and filed stories and audio tape for radio stations. But Leary’s main outlet, Maine Public Radio, doesn’t do news on weekends, so there wasn’t much point in listening there.
Overall grade: feeble.
Elliott aftermath: Pseudonymous blogger Thomas Cushing Munjoy has what may be the final word on the firing in January of Morning Sentinel reporter Joel Elliott.
The Blethen Maine Newspapers, the owners of the Sentinel when Elliott was canned, have offered him seven and a half weeks’ pay (a little less than $5,300) and to remove all mention of his termination from his personnel file. In an e-mail to the Portland Newspaper Guild, the union that represents him, Elliott responded that he wants a year’s pay and a written retraction of the “false allegations” against him.
The guild, which has never been enthusiastic about pursuing the Elliott case, sent back an e-mail in which it said it has decided “on attorney advice” not take his case to arbitration. That leaves Elliott with few choices. He can fight the battle on his own in arbitration or through a complaint he’s filed with the National Labor Relations Board. Or he can take Blethen’s offer.
Expect the latter.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com.