Press Herald Headline Spins Seafood Story
Doesn’t pass inspection: It should have been an easy headline to write. A local seafood-processing company had been shut down for a variety of food-safety violations by a consent decree filed in federal court.
The Lewiston Sun Journal didn’t have any problem coming up with something appropriate. It topped the piece with “Seafood plants closed” and followed that with a sub-headline that read, “Contaminated lobster meat recalled 4 times.”
The Bangor Daily News also got it right with “Portland Shellfish closed, awaits food safety OK.”
MaineBiz promoted it this way: “Safety violations close Portland Shellfish.”
So how come there’s no mention of the place being shut down in the Portland Press Herald headline?
The paper’s Jan. 6 article on the shutdown (the same piece that ran in the Sun Journal and Bangor Daily) is headlined, “Processor takes food safety pledge.” The sub-headline also avoids the unpleasant news. It reads, “Portland Shellfish expects new equipment and staff to satisfy FDA sanitation concerns.”
Press Herald staff writer Beth Quimby had the shutdown information in her first sentence. The recalls of lobster were in the third paragraph, along with a description of the bacteria that were found, an infection that could have caused a “potentially fatal disease.” Quimby doesn’t mention the improvements the company is promising to make until the fourth and fifth paragraphs.
In other words, she wrote the story placing the most important elements first, with lesser matters dealt with later. Which is how all news is supposed to be reported. For some odd reason, an editor or editors then wrote a headline that seemed to reflect far better on Portland Seafood than was merited by the information provided.
The only other news organization that gave the piece that kind of positive spin was WGME-TV,
which has a story-sharing agreement with the Press Herald. Perhaps that deal includes sharing the slant on stories, as well, but if so the Sun Journal and Bangor Daily (which also swap news with the Portland paper) don’t seem to have gotten the memo.
Headlines like that could give readers the impression they’d bought a “happy news” paper, rather than one committed to legitimate, unbiased coverage.
When are they opening a Sugarloaf bureau? The MaineToday Media papers (the Press Herald, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel) had yet another Sugarloaf story in their Jan. 10 editions, following up on the Dec. 28 ski-lift accident at the resort in Carrabassett Valley in which several people were injured. While many of these pieces – there have been at least a half-dozen since the initial story – contained some legitimate news, I have to wonder how many Pulitzers these papers would have won if they regularly devoted the same amount of time, energy and space to covering their hometowns.
The Lord giveth: The Dirigo Blue Web site scooped everyone on the religious trappings associated with the opening day of the legislative session.
The MaineToday papers eventually picked up on part of this story, but the question of who distributed copies of the New Testament to legislators and why remains unreported.
I also suspect that’s not the only thing going on in Augusta that we’re not being told about.
Deep water: The Jan. 8 Bangor Daily News contained one of that publication’s rare pieces of investigative journalism. Staff writer Bill Trotter took a comprehensive look at the role that aquaculture and its use of pesticides are playing in the deaths of lobsters and diseases in salmon off the Down East coast. I’m guessing this article made a lot of people in the fish-raising industry uncomfortable, but Trotter and the BDN pulled no punches and didn’t try to blunt the implications of the story with a squishy headline, like some papers I could name.
Superb work. More, please.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com.