Left, Right And The Rest Left Out
Ideologically ignored: In the wake of former CEO Richard Connor’s alleged financial mismanagement, the MaineToday Media newspapers dumped most of their freelance columnists to save money. Now that new majority owner Donald Sussman has injected enough cash into the operation to stave off bankruptcy, the Portland Press Herald, Morning Sentinel, and Kennebec Journal are again attempting to restore some local flavor to their op-ed pages.
The first move in that direction was announced on June 17 in the Maine Sunday Telegram, when editorial-page editor Greg Kesich revealed that the paper would soon be carrying commentary from Republican political consultant Dan Demeritt and Democratic operative Michael Cuzzi.
That’s good news. Sort of.
Demeritt and Cuzzi know their stuff. They’re certainly capable of providing insight into the process that wouldn’t otherwise be available. But if MaineToday thinks their viewpoints are sufficient for providing analysis of the entire political spectrum, they’re sadly mistaken.
These guys, like most of the political commentators in Maine’s news media, are hardcore partisans. Their opinions, like those of their colleagues at other print and broadcast outlets, fall well within the boundaries of their respective parties. As with other partisan pundits, most of what they churn out will almost certainly be predictable.
That can be boring, but there’s an even more crucial issue here. By limiting its columnist choices to the two major parties, MaineToday is ignoring the views of a large segment of the voting public, namely the plurality of Mainers who aren’t registered as either Democrats or Republicans.
Trying to present a balanced package of commentary can be a difficult task, requiring screening potential contributors to discover if they not only know their subject, but also have something original to say and the writing chops to pull it off. Too many news outlets attempt a shortcut by following the path established several decades ago on TV news magazines of letting a conservative and a liberal engage in debates that are occasionally heated, but rarely illuminating. And in lots of cases, they’re obviously self-serving.
Take, for example, the Bangor Daily News tag team of Dem Ethan Strimling and the GOP’s Phil Harriman. Last week in their “Agree to Disagree” column, the duo (who also provide analysis for WGAN radio in Portland, WCSH-TV in Portland, and WLBZ-TV in Bangor) offered a column on the subject of how their parties’ nominees could defeat independent U.S. Senate candidate Angus King.
No King supporter was given equal space to counter their arguments. That prompted Alan Caron, who’s backing King, to complain to me in an email about this “[p]redictable joint bashing.” He goes on to say, “The media needs to make adjustments to these worn-out constructs, but naturally they don't adjust fast and they don't like criticism.” He also called such he-said-she-said pieces “lazy and not particularly informative for the public.”
I’m no fan of King, but Caron has a solid point. Providing lame recitations of partisan talking points is a waste of space and time. But it’s a lot easier than seeking out original and insightful voices, of whom there are a few, such as Bangor Daily conservative columnist Matthew Gagnon and Dirigo Blue liberal blogger Gerald Weinand.
I hope I’m wrong about the Demeritt-Cuzzi combo, but I think it’s likely that the result will be little more than we get from poorly moderated candidate debates: a lot of stuff we’ve heard before, presented in a forgettable fashion.
(Disclosure: Since I write a political column with a distinctly nonpartisan viewpoint, this commentary could be interpreted as self-promotion. That isn’t my intention, but I’ll understand if my critics take it that way.)
Back from Boston: Steve Greenlee, the Living editor at the Boston Globe, is leaving that post to become managing editor of the Portland Press Herald. Prior to going to the Globe, Greenlee was a reporter, night city editor, and features editor for the Press Herald through most of the 1990s.
Devil in the lack of details: Let’s see how many unanswered questions were raised by the June 14 story in the Lewiston Sun Journal by staff writer Mark LaFlamme on a series of arrests by several law enforcement agencies in downtown Lewiston.
The front-page article is topped by a photo of police escorting a guy nabbed for a probation violation. Who’s the guy? Neither the caption nor the story tell us.
In fact, none of those taken into custody is named. In one case, LaFlamme says the name of an arrestee was not available, but in all the others, he doesn’t explain the lack of identification. Why?
The piece says the sweep of the area was prompted by a couple of incidents of somebody shooting off firearms in the area and notes that arrests were made in those cases. But it doesn’t say who was arrested or whether it was part of this operation or whether any of those captured in the sweep were connected to the shooting incidents. What’s up with that?
I understand that this action was ongoing through the evening, meaning that not all information might have been available by the paper’s deadline. Why doesn’t the story say that?
And why was there no follow-up the next day to clear up all the confusion? If these incidents were important enough for the front page on one day, why weren’t they of enough consequence to merit similar – and more complete – coverage the next day?
Overall, an amateurish performance.
Behind the 8 ball: WMTW-TV, Channel 8 in Portland and Auburn, is the latest Maine station to face having its programming vanish from a major provider of television services. According to a news release from WMTW, Time Warner Cable will dump Channel 8 on July 1 if no new agreement is reached on fees the cable company must pay the station. WMTW would still be available to those with the capability of receiving signals over the air or by satellite.
Earlier this month, WABI-TV in Bangor couldn’t resolve similar issues with satellite provider DirecTV and was taken off its lineup.
Al Diamon can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.