How To Lose Readers: Tips For Maine Newspapers
Fill the news hole with the same stuff twice: On Nov. 27, the Portland Press Herald devoted twelve inches of its front page to a Washington Post investigation into the source of guns used to murder police officers.
It was an interesting piece, certainly worthy of space in the paper.
But Press Herald editors ran it twice, on page A1 and in a slightly different version on page A2. That wasn’t an accident. The short version out front contained a tagline touting the full version inside.
In cases where the whole story doesn’t fit on the front page, the Portland paper’s normal procedure is to continue it elsewhere in the first section. That prevents repetition and avoids wasting space. It also leaves room for more stories, which makes for good value for readers.
But news is slow over the Thanksgiving holiday, so it appears running material more than once makes up for not having enough fresh copy to fill the paper.
Take up space on the front page with promos for stories that aren’t important enough to run on the front page: On Nov. 28, the Maine Sunday Telegram devoted twelve inches of its front page to a block promoting a series of stories on the new leadership in the Maine Legislature.
If these articles were of sufficient significance to merit displacing real news, why weren’t a couple of them begun on page 1? (That’s how the Telegram’s sister MaineToday Media papers in Augusta and Waterville handled it.) If the pieces weren’t all that important, why draw attention to them out front?
Well, like I said, news is hard to come by over a long holiday weekend, so promos fill space that would otherwise require reporting.
Charge more for the same product: On Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 25, the Bangor Daily News put out its usual edition. Four sections. Nothing extra, except a thick wad of advertising inserts promoting Christmas sales.
Well, there was one other extra: the price. For the privilege of throwing away all those ads, the Bangor Daily charged its faithful readers an additional $1.25.
That’s right, a paper that normally costs 75 cents carried a price tag of $2.00. Now there’s a holiday sale.
When I complained in years past about this practice, a BDN spokesman told me the surcharge was to cover “production costs.”
Aren’t advertisers supposed to pay for that?
Get the facts wrong: In the aforementioned MaineToday Media stories on legislative leadership, staff writer Rebekah Metzler informs readers that state Senate Democratic leader Barry Hobbins “will lead 14 Democrats in the Senate against 21 caucusing Republicans.”
In a piece on likely Senate President Kevin Raye, Metzler states that he’ll “lead a 21-member Senate Republican caucus.”
In reality, the new Maine Senate will be made up of twenty Republicans, fourteen Democrats and an independent. If that independent, Richard Woodbury of Yarmouth, is planning to caucus with the GOP, it hasn’t been reported in the MaineToday papers. And you’d think such a move would be newsworthy, because when Woodbury served in the Maine House, he caucused with the Democrats.
A footnote on the subject of legislative accuracy: The Maine Public Broadcasting Network’s Susan Sharon could stand a refresher course on the subject of legislators choosing the state’s constitutional officers. In the introduction to a Nov. 24 story, Sharon said, “One of the first tasks for newly-elected lawmakers when they get sworn in next week is to elect Maine's four constitutional officers by secret ballot.” She then listed those offices as “state auditor, treasurer, secretary of state and attorney general.”
For the record, the auditor isn’t a constitutional officer (the post was established by statute) and isn’t up for re-appointment until 2012.
Don’t collect the facts: The Nov. 29 Press Herald carried a front-page story headlined “’Stalled projects’ tied to India Street blight.”
What “stalled projects”? The article by staff writer Ed Murphy doesn’t say. It just quotes some other property owners in the Portland neighborhood complaining about unspecified vacant lots.
Who owns these projects? Again, the piece neglects to tell us. If Murphy made any attempts to get in touch with the people behind the empty sites, he didn’t mention it.
Why are they stalled? Murphy quotes people blaming the economy. But since he doesn’t have anything from the property owners, that amounts to little more than speculation. It would have been nice to have something from the folks actually making the decisions.
Weak work from a normally reliable reporter.
And one more reason to skip paying for a daily paper.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com.