Departures at the Portland and Bangor Papers
Empty desks: Here’s an update on buyouts and layoffs at the Portland Press Herald and Bangor Daily News, Maine’s largest newspapers.
At the Press Herald, Oct. 20 at 5 p.m. was the deadline for members of the Portland Newspaper Guild who had received layoff notices to “bump” to lesser positions. Editorial writer Greg Kesich waited until close to the witching hour before deciding to accept a lower-paid reporting job, after his position was eliminated. Management at the paper expressed no concerns that Kesich, who has been a voice for liberal views since taking the opinion job five years ago, would have a credibility problem in returning to allegedly objective news writing. “It’s just not a issue,” one company insider said. “They think he’s lucky to have a job.”
Also gone at the Portland paper, newly hired business reporter J. Hemmerdinger and rookie York County reporter Emma Bouthillette, as well as sports writer Rachel Lenzi. In addition, the Press Herald got rid of its part-time copy editors and several employees in advertising and distribution. Right-wing editorial writer M.D. Harmon also confirmed his retirement, but said his weekly column will continue to appear on Thursdays and will also run in the Press Herald’s sister papers, the Morning Sentinel and Kennebec Journal.
At the Bangor Daily, twenty-two people will get done, most of them as of the close of business today. That’s less than the approximately thirty voluntary departures the company had hoped for, but it’s not yet clear if there’ll be layoffs to make up the difference.
Newsroom personnel who are leaving include veterans Jeff Strout, Diana Bowley, Sharon Kiley Mack, Meg Haskell, Joni Averill, Joel Crabtree and Roxanne Saucier. Charlie Campo and Jill Marston from the library will also be calling it quits.
No local yokel: The exits of Kesich and Harmon leave the MaineToday Media papers editorial pages in the hands of one guy, Bill Thompson, an old associate of company CEO Richard Connor. By all accounts, Thompson – whose title is editorial page director, but who was originally hired from out of state to run the KJ and Sentinel until it became obvious that wasn’t going to work out – is an intelligent guy with a keen interest in politics. Only one problem, according to a knowledgeable source:
“He doesn’t know anything about Maine.”
Look for lots of pieces from Thompson on national issues, the Republican presidential race in particular. As for what’s going on at City Hall, not so much.
Speaking of odd items on the editorial page: The Oct. 20 column by Tony Ronzio, editor and publisher of the KJ and Sentinel, was filled with howlers. The piece ran not only in those two papers, but in the Press Herald, as well.
“Going forward,” Ronzio wrote, “readers and customers of newspapers will know more about us, how we think, behave and operate, warts and all.”
Does this mean MaineToday intends to disclose when it makes political contributions, as it failed to do during the campaign to create an elected mayor in Portland?
Does this mean the papers will be more consistent in disclosing the involvement of MaineToday minority owner Robert C.S. Monks in stories they cover?
And will Ronzio’s papers end self-promoting blather like these sentences from his column: “Although our staffs are smaller, our collective talent is enormous. This industry is flush with expertise and guile, wit and wisdom”?
You don’t say stuff like that after you’ve gutted your news staff.
You have to prove it.
Profiting in every way: Before all the MaineToday papers raised their newsstand prices from seventy-five cents to a dollar this month, the bean counters had already calculated the impact on the bottom line. According to information mentioned in employee meetings at the paper (and relayed to me by three sources), even with an expected decline in circulation as a result of the higher price, MaineToday expects to take in an additional $200,000 in income, thanks to that extra quarter per issue sold. What’s more, savings associated with printing and distributing fewer papers will save another $100,000.
How to win by losing.
Transcribing vs. reporting: Anyone with an average attention span can attend a public meeting, take notes on what happened and produce some sort of record of the event.
But that’s not reporting. Engaging in journalism would require doing more than parroting what was said. It takes real work.
To experience the difference, consider this Oct. 19 story by Glenn Adams of the Associated Press about a legislative committee hearing on proposed changes to Maine’s Clean Election Law. Adams provides a bland rundown of what seemed to be going on, including a lot of previously reported background. Trouble is, there appears to have been a lot more happening than he bothered to mention.
To learn the real story, you’d have to go to Steve Mistler’s insightful piece in the Oct. 19 Lewiston Sun Journal. Instead of devoting lots of space to rehashing what had already been reported, Mistler digs into what was going on behind the scenes. He does some actual political reporting, showing the implications of the conflicting parties’ positions for the future of the Clean Election Act.
His story is so different from Adams’ piece that you have to wonder if these two guys were even at the same meeting.
Al Diamon can be emailed at email@example.com.