Good Versus Great in the Maine Media
Chelsea mourning: Last August, the Kennebec Journal noticed something strange going on in the town of Chelsea.
Carole Swan, the chair of the Board of Selectmen, was awarding no-bid contracts for road work to a firm owned by her husband. Over the ensuing months, the KJ stayed with the story, filing Freedom of Information requests, doing numerous interviews and eventually discovering evidence of serious wrongdoing.
In short, the paper did a nice job.
Nice, but not spectacular.
After the latest piece on the Chelsea mini-scandal broke, I got e-mails from a couple of people connected to the news business wondering why I hadn’t cited these articles as examples of the exemplary work the Maine media occasionally do. One writer even suggested I had ignored this scoop because I was prejudiced against MaineToday Media (which owns the KJ, the Portland Press Herald and the Morning Sentinel).
Here’s why I didn’t mention it: Traditionally, reporters and editors weren’t doing anything out of the ordinary when they aggressively followed up leads on government wrongdoing. In most old-fashioned newsrooms, keeping those in positions of power honest was item one on the job description. Over the years, that responsibility has been ignored in favor of fluff and regurgitating what happened at public events.
That’s not journalism. That’s public relations. But our industry has gotten so used to substituting the latter for the former that when we occasionally fulfill our original mission, we seem to think it’s an event of considerable magnitude.
It isn’t. It’s what we’re supposed to be doing every day. The way the Bangor Daily News’ Kevin Miller and Matt Wickenheiser are.
There are others: Steve Mistler at the Lewiston Sun Journal, Emily Parkhurst at The Forecaster, Tom Bell at the Press Herald, freelancers such as Colin Woodard and Lance Tapley.
Sadly, they’re the exceptions.
That’s not a good enough reason to heap praise on somebody for simply showing a modicum of initiative and an end product that justifies receiving a paycheck. Being inquisitive, clear and thorough aren’t qualities that deserve a Pulitzer. They’re the minimum standards for this profession.
Speaking of being inquisitive: Did any reporter or editor in the entire state, except blogger Gerald Weinand at Dirigo Blue, bother to follow up on the comments Gov. Paul LePage made in his budget address last week about a couple of Maine municipalities being on the verge of bankruptcy?
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.