How to Pay More for the Same Maine News
Price gouging: Give the Bangor Daily News credit for the originality of its greediness.
On Nov. 26, the paper ran a small announcement on its front page explaining that it was hiking its newsstand price for that day from the usual seventy-five cents to two dollars. The reason:
“Packed with news, advertising, inserts and fliers, the Thanksgiving Day issue of the Bangor Daily News has similar production and distribution costs to our weekend paper, and it now will carry the same price.”
In return for the extra buck and a quarter that readers must shell out for the Bangor paper’s Saturday edition, they receive an additional news section, color comics, and the USA Weekend magazine. The turkey-day edition offered none of that. It featured the same number of sections as any seventy-five-cent paper and contained only the usual features. The only difference was the regular paper was wrapped in a thick wad of the aforementioned “advertising, inserts, and fliers,” all of which were there, presumably, because some company paid the BDN to distribute them.
If the newspaper didn’t charge its advertisers enough to cover distribution and production costs of that issue, it needs to re-examine its business model, because it must be seriously flawed. Passing the expense of foisting this slick blob of pulp onto readers is inexcusable.
Choice gouging: While I’m handing out awards for originality in overcharging, here’s one for Time Warner Cable, which is running a vigorous advertising campaign trying to enlist consumers in its efforts to pay lower fees for the programming it buys.
The cable system, which serves most of Maine, claims it’s constantly being charged more for popular channels and is asking its customers to vote on whether it should “Roll Over or Get Tough.”
According to its ads, “Together, we just might be able to make a difference in what America pays for its favorite entertainment.”
Before you vote, you might consider a couple of things. If, as the promotion urges (in a none-too-subtle fashion), you opt for “Get Tough,” keep in mind that you’re giving Time Warner permission to stop carrying any channels it deems too expensive. That might be acceptable to some people if the cable company planned to lower their monthly bills, but there’s no mention of anything like that in the ad.
So, does that mean your only option is to “Roll Over” and accept a bigger cable bill for the same amount of programming? Not quite.
Those unhappy with both paying more and getting less could contact Time Warner to urge the company to offer individual cable packages that allow customers to choose the channels they want, and pay only for those channels.
That way, the burden of paying for high-priced channels would fall only on those who wanted that programming.
Funny they forgot to mention that idea.
Taking another run: “This is always the optimistic time of year,” Greg Sweetser, executive director of the Ski Maine Association, told the Lewiston Sun Journal at the start of another winter-sports season.
And just about every other year, no matter what was happening to the economy, world politics, or the weather.
Through recessions, terrorist attacks, and snow droughts, Sweetser has been paid to maintain a uniformly cheery outlook about his industry. And the Maine news media have dutifully reported his assessment in unquestioning fashion.
In 2005, for instance, high gasoline prices were the concern. “We don’t want to be in denial on this thing ,” Sweetser was quoted by the Associated Press as saying, “but now, all indications are good.”
Every year, just about every news outlet with a ski area within its circulation area or broadcast signal seeks out Sweetser for comment in stories that sometimes seem purposely designed to ignore reality. Last season was great, he always tells them, and the upcoming season will be even better.
In the AP’s 2009 version of this press-release-disguised-as-a-news-story, Sweetser brushed off last year’s economic collapse, high unemployment, and a snowless March that had skiers and boarders packing away their equipment weeks earlier than usual.
According to the AP: “While skier visits were down 2 percent in the state last season, Maine gained a little of New England’s market share, Sweetser added.”
Actually, the drop-off in visits was closer to 3 percent, according to an earlier AP story (not that anyone’s checking), and the increase in market share was just 1 percent.
I’m not saying there’s never any hard-nosed reporting on Maine’s winter sports industry. The collapse of American Skiing Co. was thoroughly covered by several local media outlets. The struggles of smaller ski areas to survive have gotten a little ink and airtime. The sale and revival of Saddleback has been analyzed in detail. And former Kennebec Journal/Morning Sentinel skiing columnist Bob Metzinger was, until his departure at the end of last season, a reliable source of unbiased information refreshingly free of filtering by the Sweetseroids.
But I’m not aware of any other group of businesses in the state that consistently gets off as lightly as the ski industry in reporting on its problems, challenges, and disasters.
The coverage is all deep powder, seemingly designed to cover up the underlying boilerplate.
Return team: Last week, I reported that WCSH-TV in Portland (Channel 6) and WLBZ-TV in Bangor (Channel 2) had dumped their Sunday night newscasts following the broadcast of NFL games on NBC.
That change appears to be temporary.
According to an e-mail from Mike Marshall, vice president of programming and marketing at the stations, the local news shows will return on Jan. 10, after NBC’s coverage of the football ends.
From the ashes: According to the Bangor Daily News, the weekly Lincoln News is well on its way to recovering from the fire that destroyed its office and printing press earlier this month.
The damaged building has been demolished, the BDN reports, and a new, somewhat larger structure could be completed in as little as three months. In the interim, the News continues to be printed by the Ellsworth American.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com.