Reporting on Sex (and Producing a Lurid Headline)
Screwy situation: On Dec. 29, the Lewiston Sun Journal ran a story from the Bangor Daily News that contained this seemingly contradictory description of court testimony in an arson trial:
“Crabtree last week admitted to having sex with MacIntyre but denied having a physical relationship with her.”
The version of the article that ran in the Bangor Daily News by staff writer Alex Barber omitted that sentence.
Obviously, an editor there was on the ball.
Listing done right: This is the time of year when news organizations fill space and time with lists. The top stories. The dopiest stories. The biggest idiots. It beats trying to do real journalism during the holidays when everybody seems to be short-staffed.
Of course, the results are usually lame, but what can readers expect?
Actually, they ought to expect a lot more. As Matt Gagnon of the Pine Tree Politics blog demonstrated this past week when he posted his list of “The 25 Most influential People In Maine Politics.”
Gagnon wasn’t interested in a space filler. He wanted something that informed and intrigued. He got it. Instead of simply making up his own list, he contacted twenty people from all aspects of the political spectrum (disclosure: I was one of them) and asked them to help develop and rate a sizable selection of names. He them compiled a consensus top twenty-five from that.
But Gagnon didn’t stop there. He also did thorough research on everybody who made the cut, presenting concise and informative mini-biographies that contained an impressive amount of fresh information.
In other words, real journalism.
Gagnon says he has a couple of other lists in the works. If they’re even close to this effort in quality, they’ll be much welcome in this season of mediocrity.
Getting smaller: The Maine Press Association reports in its weekly email newsletter that the Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander are downsizing.
The two weeklies aren’t laying off staff. They’re switching to smaller pages. Since the 1950s, the American has been using wider sheets than most papers, and the Islander debuted in the same format a few years ago. Now, they’ll be published in a more standard format, both to save money and to satisfy customers who’ve complained about their unconventional size.
Shallow on Snowe: The Portsmouth Herald has long had a reputation for doing a better job covering Maine politics than many of this state’s news organizations. But that may no longer be true.
On Dec. 29, the Herald published a piece by Jamie Webben on Republican U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe’s re-election prospects. The piece was reasonably thorough – the material on Snowe’s voting record was enlightening – but missed a significant fact when it quoted what appeared to be a couple of average Maine voters on their opinions of the senator.
One of those people was Gordon Grimes, described as “a Portland attorney and registered Democrat.” Webben doesn’t mention it, but Grimes is also a major donor to Snowe’s campaigns, having contributed $4,000 since 2009.
That raises uncomfortable questions about how the reporter came to use Grimes in this story. Was there a gentle nudge in that direction from the Snowe campaign? If so, shouldn’t that have been mentioned in the piece in order to avoid the impression Grimes was picked more or less at random? At a minimum, shouldn’t his financial role have been disclosed?
If the Herald wants to maintain its rep for Maine political coverage, it needs more digging and tighter editing.
(Disclosure: Dan Aibel of the Collins Watch blog alerted me to this omission.)
Al Diamon can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.