Sun Journal Takes The Day Off
It’s not that the front page of the April 11 Lewiston Sun Journal had no local news on it. It has a story about a guy arrested for jury tampering. But it came from the Bangor Daily News. And there was an article on plans to investigate operations at the state Department of Health and Human Services. Also from the Bangor paper. In addition, there were two national pieces, courtesy of the Associated Press.
Staff-produced scoops? Well, on page two there’s a small piece on nominees to head the New England section of the Small Business Administration. It’s attributed to “Staff Report,” but it’s actually just a press release. Oh, and there’s another local item, this one on the state math meet. It’s from the Bangor Daily.
More borrowing from the BDN on page three, plus an AP brief. Then, lots of obituaries and some national wire service copy. The editorial is staff-produced and pretty good, the only item in the front section of the paper that qualifies for either of those descriptions.
The Sun Journal has a snappy new design, but is that meant to disguise the lack of content? Has the paper undergone massive layoffs? Is there no one left to cover stories worthy of running out front?
Ah, here are the Sun Journal’s own reporters, hiding in the second section. They’ve been busy gathering up hyper-local stories for the various regional editions. There are seven pieces in the Franklin County version of the paper, no more than one of which could possibly be of any interest to anybody outside the town being covered. Still, if you live in Jay or Farmington, this stuff is probably important to you. The Lewiston/Auburn edition has Mark LaFlamme’s always-entertaining column (why isn’t it in every edition?) amid some material of less broad appeal. The Oxford Hills and River Valley editions stick to covering meetings and fundraisers.
One local sports story.
All for only seventy-five cents.
I realize the Sun Journal has lost its State House reporter and has yet to bring a replacement on board. But it has people on staff, such as Bonnie Washuk (who used to cover that beat), capable of going to Augusta and filling in during the crucial final days of the legislative session. It has journalists experienced in covering politics, business, and health care who seem to limited to writing about those topics only in the Sunday paper. It has an extensive farm team of reporters at the many weeklies owned by its parent company, some of whom must be working on something that resembles news.
In fairness to the Sun Journal, on most days, the paper does have more self-produced content than it did on April 11. But the amount seems to have been in steady decline for some time. And the front page, indeed the entire front section, has increasingly relied on material from other papers and wire services to avoid blank space. Opting to use its limited resources for covering zoning board meetings and charitable events rather than major stories isn’t just a questionable editorial decision. It shows every sign of a news organization that’s giving up competing for news.
Al Diamon can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.