MaineToday Shines With Hannaford Coverage
Meaty reporting: The Hannaford chain of supermarkets is a major employer in Maine. The company wields considerable clout in both the business world and in politics. And Hannaford is a big advertiser in the state’s media – a factor it has not, on occasion, been shy about employing to guard against unfavorable coverage.
For instance, in 2008, Hannaford cancelled all its spots on WGME-TV in Portland because it considered the station’s coverage of a security breach that put customer credit and debit card information at risk to be too “aggressive.” The message was received loud and clear by other news outlets, which have since been deferential to the point of being obsequious in dealing with Hannaford.
And that was the approach most of the media took late last year, when the supermarkets were cited as the source of a multi-state salmonella outbreak linked to ground beef prepared in its facilities. The bulk of the coverage was cautious and non-critical, even though it was obvious the company’s recordkeeping had been insufficient to pinpoint the source of the disease that had made a number of people seriously ill.
That fraidy-cat approach came to an end at MaineToday Media on March 25. Over two days, MTM’s newspapers published an exhaustive series of reports explaining what happened, how, why, and what ought to be done to prevent a reoccurrence.
There was fine work by Portland Press Herald staff writer Leslie Bridgers on how the outbreak happened and where the gaps in the subsequent investigation by the federal government were. There was solid coverage of the regulatory failures in Washington by MaineToday D.C. correspondent Jonathan Riskind and Press Herald reporter Avery Yale Kamila, who usually covers light topics such as food and social life. On March 26, the papers followed up with the medical and scientific angles, although this installment seemed a bit inflated and added little to the overall story.
Nevertheless, MTM has produced some serious journalism of the sort that had virtually vanished from the papers during the Richard Connor/Scott Wasser era. This series, combined with good reporting on the effect energy prices have on economic development and how the wife of one of MaineToday’s owners is a major fundraiser for President Obama’s re-election campaign, made the March 25 Maine Sunday Telegram one of the best issues in many years.
Time to stop the cheerleading: The Press Herald may have regained some of its mojo in its news sections. But the editorial pages have yet to catch up. In the wake of last week’s hard-hitting expose on huge salary hikes being handed out to select administrators at the University of Southern Maine, it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to expect some kind of explanation in the regular column of self-promotion that USM president Selma Botman contributes to the Portland paper’s op-ed page. Somebody in authority at the paper should have concluded that if Botman is going to be given this valuable forum for her thoughts, it doesn’t seem like it would be too much of a burden to require her to occasionally write about matters of immediate consequence. But her March 26 piece blithely ignores the salary issue and her role in it, instead devoting itself to the value of intercollegiate sports (“USM wins because of its student athletes' conduct, not only in their sports but also in class and off the playing field”).
This is blather. Leaving the space blank would have been an improvement.
Al Diamon can be emailed at email@example.com.