Right-Wing Think Tank Gets Into the News Biz
Conservative approach: The Maine Heritage Policy Center, a controversial right-wing think tank that’s been involved in political campaigns and has been a driving force behind much of the agenda of Republican Gov. Paul LePage, is starting its own news service to cover state government. Center executive director Lance Dutson said Maine Policy News will launch in early December as a nonprofit organization with two reporters, one assigned to cover day-to-day stories at the State House and the other to do longer investigative pieces. Dutson said he’d be announcing the names of his staffers in the next week or two. In addition, MPN is negotiating to carry commentary and other features from conservative writers. He said a third reporter will likely be hired early next year, which would make the operation the largest at the Capitol of any media outlet.
“Our intention is to be a significant player in the State House news scene,” Dutson said.
MPN’s stories will be offered free to news organizations, although the center has yet to reach agreements with any newspapers, radio or television stations. Which isn’t surprising given the center’s political views. It’s likely most of the media will want to see what sort of stories MPN produces before committing to carry them.
“Obviously, we’re coming out of the gate with a certain ideological bent because of who we are,” Dutson said. “That’s a huge challenge. But there’s still an unserved market for information, even if we can’t overcome[our conservative image]. If we spoke only to our own people, it would still be a success.”
Dutson said MPN will strive for objective reporting, although the center will have some influence over which topics are being covered. He said the news service can build on the center’s reputation for doing research on issues and will provide balance in a state media heavily influenced by what he perceives as liberally biased coverage from the Bangor Daily News and the Portland Press Herald.
“That cookie-cutter reporting is boring to people,” Dutson said.
Although I don’t buy Dutson’s claim of institutionalized liberalism among reporters, he has a point about some stories being ignored by the mainstream press. He originally announced the creation of the news service at the center’s annual meeting in Portland in early November. But the media (with the exception of Press Herald columnist M.D. Harmon) ignored that event and missed the scoop. Major news outlets have also been reluctant to cover reports released by the center, sometimes because they appeared to be skewed to support the organization’s agenda, but other times simply because some editors I’ve spoken with don’t consider the organization to be a credible source.
If Maine Policy News is a success, its politically savvy parent will no longer have to contend with such judgments to get the word out.
Jumping ship: On Nov. 17, Tony Ronzio, the publisher/editor of the MaineToday Media-owned Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel, announced via Twitter and Facebook that he was leaving the company. Ronzio said he was returning to the Sun Media Group – publishers of the Lewiston Sun Journal, Forecaster weeklies and other papers – as their director of new media. He characterized the move as coming at “a time of great excitement and regret.”
Ronzio previously worked as editorial-page editor at the Sun Journal. He moved to the KJ and Sentinel just two years ago as editor, later adding publisher to his title. His return to Sun Media hardly appears to be a promotion or even a lateral move, prompting speculation that he’s leaving financially troubled MaineToday before disaster strikes.
Speaking of which: Editor Jeff Inglis of the Portland Phoenix has a detailed look at the recent real-estate moves by deposed MaineToday CEO Richard Connor. Inglis reports that one day before Connor was forced out, he shifted more than $3 million in Maine real estate in Falmouth and Camden into a trust that his wife controls. Inglis wrote that the move “could be seen as an effort to protect his assets should the companies’ internal financial inquiries result in litigation.”
Technically, Connor is still employed by MTM until his resignation takes effect Dec. 31. But his photo and biography disappeared from the company’s websites earlier this week.
(Disclosure: My weekly political column runs in the Phoenix.)
New hires: The Bangor Daily News lost a number of veteran reporters when it offered buyouts last month, but it’s been able to pick up some experienced replacements, as well. The BDN’s new health-care editor will be Jackie Farwell, a former reporter for the BDN who left in 2006 to work for the Associated Press in New York. More recently, she covered stories for Mainebiz. Farwell, who lives in Gorham, will work out of southern Maine, adding to the growing contingent of journalists for the Bangor paper that are based there.
The Bangor Daily has also added Tom Walsh as its new Washington County bureau chief. Walsh is a former Ellsworth American reporter who’s been working since 2008 at the Jackson Lab as a science writer.
Error message: The Bangor paper gets to serve as a bad example in a column by University of Maine journalism professor Justin D. Martin in Columbia Journalism Review. Martin points out how editors at the BDN spend more time arguing about errors he’s pointed out to them than they do correcting them. And he says such a contentious attitude is all too common in the newspaper industry.
Arrogance in journalism? Who’d have thought it?
Al Diamon can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.