Down East 2013 ©
Past imperfect: Guy Gannett’s idea of an unbiased newspaper was one that covered stories from an overtly Republican point of view. Gannett’s view on the free market was that it worked best if he held a monopoly on news outlets. Gannett welcomed a diversity of opinions, so long as they didn’t extend beyond his own and those of immediate family members who agreed with him.
Gannett, who died in 1954, was Maine’s foremost media mogul. At the time of his death, he owned the Portland Press Herald, Portland Sunday Telegram, Kennebec Journal, Waterville Sentinel, a television station, and several radio outlets. Long after his departure, his worldview still served as the filter through which events had to pass before they could be deemed news that was fit for Mainers to consume. Only with the sale of the family-owned company in 1998 did his influence over the state’s media finally come to an end.
Considered in the context of his times, Gannett doesn’t appear to have been a bad guy. Plenty of papers skewed the news more blatantly than his did. Lots of them made far less of an investment in real journalism. Within the limitations of his culture and class, he held some modestly progressive views. In short, he was, like most significant historical figures, a complex individual.
I hope the museum his family wants to create in Augusta  reflects that complexity, giving us a picture of the man that includes both the positive and negative aspects of his powerful personality and even more potent business influences.
The Gannetts announced last week that they hope to turn a mansion that was once owned by their patriarch and that sits next to the Blaine House (the governor’s residence) into a facility focused on the First Amendment and the Maine news media. The vacant building is currently owned by the state, which used it until recently to house the State Planning Office.
According to news stories, the project calls for a variety of interactive exhibits, archives, and lectures extolling the virtues of a free press. But if it’s going to be true to its announced mission, it will need to be independent of the Gannetts’ historic tendency to see the world through glasses forged by the legacy of the big Guy. Since the family is apparently proposing to fund much of the institution, it’s difficult to see how that could happen.
Unless the museum is shielded from meddling by the Gannetts or any other influential donors, it seems unlikely it would be able to provide accurate assessments of important media trends, such as the rise of an alternative press in the state. There’s little doubt that weeklies such as the groundbreaking Maine Times came into existence in reaction to the Gannett papers’ refusal to cover environmental issues, as well as their practiced indifference to the societal upheavals that began in the 1960s.
An institution devoted to honestly assessing Maine’s media, both current and historical, could be a valuable asset. A mausoleum devoted to little more than preserving the Gannett family’s self-image would be a waste of valuable public space.
As Fish Goes: Scott Fish – the owner and editor of As Maine Goes, the conservative Web forum – is handing over operation of the site to Naran Row-Spaulding of Kennebunk. Fish made the announcement last week , after he was hired by Republican Senate President Kevin Raye to serve as his communications director.
Row-Spaulding, who posts on AMG under her first name, has helped administer the site for some time. She’s been active in property-tax-related issues in her hometown and appears to hold moderate social views.
It’ll be interesting to see how the new editor handles more conservative posters if they decide Fish’s boss, who’s also a social moderate, has strayed too far from Tea Party orthodoxy.
Recalling a fact: MaineToday Media State House reporter Susan Cover posted a brief piece last week on a statement issued by the Maine People’s Alliance denying the liberal activist group was circulating petitions calling for the recall of Republican Gov.-elect Paul LePage. 
Too bad Cover didn’t lend a little perspective to the validity of the charge, first raised by LePage Communications Director Dan Demeritt, by pointing out that Maine’s Constitution doesn’t allow for the recall of the governor.
Don’t be blue: LePage is being inaugurated on Jan. 5, but don’t expect live coverage of the event on the liberal Dirigo Blue Web site. Editor Gerald Weinand says he’s been denied media credentials  for the event.
The reason, according to LePage spokesman Demeritt in an e-mail to Weinand: “I do not believe Dirigo Blue to be a fair, impartial news outlet.” Demeritt went on to say that because space for the inauguration was limited, “I cannot make credentials available for everyone with an opinion and a Web site.”
Before you ask, I didn’t even bother applying.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org .