More Press Herald Conflict of Interest
Blackout on Black Point: Robert C.S. Monks is a part owner and board member of MaineToday Media. Monks also owns or invests in numerous other businesses and is heavily involved in politics. According to standard ethical journalistic practices, every time a MaineToday newspaper covers a story in which Monks has some involvement, his role should be disclosed.
Seems simple enough.
But for some reason, it also appears to be beyond the capabilities of the editors at MaineToday’s Portland Press Herald.
The latest example of nondisclosure came in an Oct. 5 Press Herald editorial extolling the virtues of a controversial plan by the Sprague Corp. to donate oceanfront land in Scarborough for a park. Allowing the public to use the sixty-two acre site would relieve overcrowding at nearby Scarborough Beach State Park, but it’s opposed by neighbors who say it will cause parking problems and congestion near their homes.
The Portland paper’s position: Sprague has made “a generous offer that should be rewarded with thanks.” The editorial goes on to say Sprague is “fulfilling its civic-minded mission to provide public access to the ocean, from which many people who can’t afford to own a beachfront home can benefit.” It concludes, “A private landowner stepping up where the cash-strapped state cannot deserves applause, not criticism.”
According to Monks’ website, he’s the chairman of the Black Point Corp., which owns the Sprague Corp. There’s no mention of that in the editorial.
There’s also no mention of Monks’ role in this debate in a news story that ran on page one on Oct. 4.
Nor is there any disclosure in five other stories the Press Herald has run on the issue dating back to December of last year.
Sprague is also involved with Crescent Beach State Park in Cape Elizabeth, leasing about half its land to the state. The Portland paper published stories on negotiations leading to a new lease for that property last year, but never brought up Monks’ involvement.
This raises several questions.
Are the paper’s editors unaware of Monks’ links to these stories? That would be sloppy – almost inexcusably sloppy – journalism.
Or are the editors deliberately avoiding any mention of Monks, either out of fear of offending him or of causing readers to think the Press Herald’s coverage is biased?
If so, that’s just plain inexcusable.
Up a little: A couple more positive newspaper circulation figures have arrived, courtesy of annual filings with the U.S. Postal Service.
MaineToday Media’s Morning Sentinel in Waterville managed to stop the bleeding that saw it lose 8.5 percent of it average daily sales between 2009 and 2010. This year, the Sentinel sold 14,817 papers per day, an increase of not quite two percent. The paper is still far below the nearly 16,000 copies it averaged in 2009.
At the Original Irregular in Kingfield, circulation rebounded nicely from last year’s dip. The weekly sold an average of 1,935 copies in 2011, up a little less than five percent and nearly equaling circulation in 2009.
Pining for Pine Tree Politics: Matthew Gagnon’s Pine Tree Politics blog has been mostly inactive since he started writing a weekly column for the Bangor Daily News, leading to speculation Gagnon had abandoned the unpaid online enterprise for the prestige of print and a paycheck.
Not so, he said in an email. The pressures of his real job (he’s a political consultant) have prevented him from posting new material in recent weeks.
“I ran headlong into a particularly nasty couple months of work and just haven't had the energy to put my ‘reporter’ hat on (writing opinions is easy, I can bang that out in like half an hour if I have to... but covering stuff takes a lot of time/effort to do it any justice),” he wrote.
Amen to that, brother.
Crime causer: Headline of the week from the Oct. 4 Portland Press Herald:
“Traffic stop leads to Cape burglaries”
In that case, better quit stopping cars.
Al Diamon can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.