Bias in the Maine Media: Time to Get Real
Skewed skewering: Scarcely a day goes by that I don’t receive an email or a phone call complaining about bias in the Maine media. Nearly every week, I have my happy hour beer interrupted by somebody convinced the journalistic establishment is out to get them and anyone who thinks like they do. And the state’s political blogs are rife with vague claims of stories deliberately slanted in one fashion or another.
I take all these gripes seriously.
No, really, I do.
Trouble is that, upon investigation, few of these allegations amount to much. Sometimes, there are mistakes in the fact-gathering process. On occasion, there’s insensitivity. There are plenty of examples of sloppiness and laziness. And advocacy journalism, when it’s clearly identified as such, doesn’t violate any ethical standard of news gathering. But actual cases of stories that are deliberately – and deceptively – slanted for political purposes are rarities.
In fact, the only instance of real bias I can think of in recent years is that of the MaineToday Media newspapers, under former CEO Richard Connor, doing their utmost in 2010 to promote the gubernatorial candidacy of independent candidate Eliot Cutler on their news pages. (The Bangor Daily News appeared to be guilty of the same offense to a lesser extent.) Other than that, I’ve got squat.
Nevertheless, the whining continues unabated. Conservatives insist the media are undermining the Republican administration of Gov. Paul LePage and the GOP majority in the Legislature. Liberals believe mainstream reporters and editors are ignoring their views. Blah, blah, blah.
The better the reporter, the more of this nonsense gets circulated. No one generates as many complaints as the Lewiston Sun Journal’s Steve Mistler, mostly because nobody else is less inclined to take what he’s told at face value. A.J. Higgins at Maine Public Radio gets his share of abuse, because he has more institutional memory than the rest of the State House press corps combined (always excepting the venerable Mal Leary of Capitol News Service, whose experience dates back to before Maine was a state). Eric Russell of the Bangor Daily has run into problems because of his online feuding, but his stories display no sign of slant. The BDN’s Kevin Miller and MaineToday’s John Richardson are also frequent targets of abuse, mostly without cause.
All that said, there’s no question biased reporting is a serious issue, one that needs to be addressed whenever it turns up. So, here’s my challenge to you, the dissatisfied multitudes who seek perfect balance in news coverage. Instead of sending me frothing-at-the-mouth emails that claim, “Mistler is out to get LePage no matter what” or “Miller pays no attention to our environmental manifestos,” try being specific. If you think the coverage was tilted one way or the other, cite the exact wording in the story that supports your case. If important information was overlooked, explain why the reporter should have known about it and how it might have changed the end product. No generalizations. No blanket condemnations. Chapter and verse, only.
Feel free to post your evidence below or to email me. I’d appreciate it if you’d lay off the happy hour sessions, though.
Marketing and journalism: Last year, the MaineToday Media newspapers launched a separate company called MaineToday Digital to do marketing and public relations. At the time, I expressed concerns that MTM was blurring the lines between journalism and PR, but my worries haven’t seemed to divert the trend toward this sort of unseemly alliance.
Last week, the Bangor Daily News announced it had formed a partnership with Dream Local Digital of Thomaston to create its own marketing company. The new entity will be called BDN Maine.
Todd Benoit, the newspaper’s director of news and new media, is quoted as saying the combined operation will “provide more effective, more comprehensive services to our clients.”
It’s not difficult to imagine those “services” conflicting with the paper’s journalism. It remains to be seen whether it will be new media principles or those of the old that will prevail in such clashes.
No more Passmore: The Maine Press Association’s weekly newsletter reports that Michelle Passmore is out after a short stint as publisher at the Journal Tribune in Biddeford. Her replacement is Jim Freeland, ex-publisher of the Jackson Newspapers in Ripley, W. Va. Freeland started his new job back in late November, but apparently nobody outside Biddeford noticed.
Also from the MPA, London Publishing, a Canadian company that owns more than a dozen weeklies, has purchased the Calais Advertiser.
I’d provide links to the original stories about these items, but the news section of the MPA’s website hasn’t been updated since last March.
Turnover forecast: The Forecaster weeklies in Greater Portland are undergoing some changes in the newsroom. Reporter Emily Parkhurst is leaving on Jan. 24 to head for Seattle and a job at the Puget Sound Business Journal. And Amy Anderson will give up covering food-related news later this month to return to making it.
Forecaster editor Mo Mehlsak said he’s already hired replacements, but can’t yet reveal their names.
I won’t be listening: The Portland Radio Group, owned by Saga Communications, announced on Jan. 16 that it has signed a deal to carry New York Yankees games on two of its stations, WVAE (1400 AM) and WBAE (1490 AM).
In a press release, the company noted that the Yankees “start their march to the World Series on April 6, 2012, in Tampa Bay.”
I can think of no comment that doesn’t include profanity.
Al Diamon can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.