Liquor Sale Coverage All Wet
On the rocks: When a Maine company sells off some of its assets to a major national firm for a whopping $605 million, it seems as if that should be big news. But you’d never guess that from the coverage in Maine daily newspapers.
On April 23, Beam Inc. in Deerfield, Ill., announced it was buying the Pinnacle Vodka and Calico Jack rum brands from White Rock Distilleries in Lewiston. Most of the state’s news outlets slapped up an Associated Press story that closely mirrored the Beam release and was primarily aimed at investors. There was almost nothing in it about the implications for this state and the workers based here.
But it was only mid-morning. Plenty of time to gather that information for the next day’s papers.
Except, nobody made more than a half-hearted effort to do so.
The Lewiston Sun Journal, based in White Rock’s hometown, put the news at the top of its April 24 front page. But the article was little more than the previous day’s AP piece with a few paragraphs of local material tacked on. The Sun Journal didn’t bother to find out how many people work at the distillery. It didn’t learn whether those jobs would be staying in Lewiston or moving elsewhere. It did mention that White Rock had sold off some brands in 2007, but missed another such sale last September. As for filling holes the following day, forget it. There was no mention of the sale in the April 25 Sun Journal.
The Bangor Daily News’ Matt Wickenheiser did a bit better. His April 24 article included quotes from Beam officials indicating the sale included the bottling line in Lewiston, and that facility would remain open. Wickenheiser also followed up with a blog posting on news about the sale from an industry publication. But the Bangor paper didn’t find out how many jobs were involved or whether all of them would be preserved.
The Portland Press Herald buried the news in a brief on the business page. Its newly hired business reporter, Jessica Hall, was busy covering the sale of a Brunswick heating oil company to an Oklahoma conglomerate. It’s unclear why that transaction merited top-of-the-front-page billing, while one of at least equal importance got the bare minimum. But what is obvious is that the Maine media failed to deliver information the public should have.
The changing definition of veteran: The Bangor Daily News has hired a new editorial page editor. She’s Erin Rhoda described in the newspaper’s announcement as a “veteran Maine reporter.”
Rhoda has spent the past two years as a competent reporter for the Morning Sentinel in Waterville. Before that, she worked for the Courier-Gazette in Rockland for a brief time after graduating from Colby College.
In the past, it wouldn’t have been unusual to have characterized such a thin resume as that of a rookie reporter.
The distinction is more than academic. The editorial job at the BDN, which has traditionally been awarded to up-and-comers within the organization, is a demanding position. As someone with experience in a similar job put it, “You need a sense of authority and a deep understanding of the issues,” as well as the ability to resist the influence of “the many powerful people who want to push you around. You need to provoke thinking, and stake out positions that don't just echo orthodoxies and ideology.”
It’s possible Rhoda possesses these “veteran” qualities. It should become apparent quickly if she doesn’t.
Al Diamon can be emailed at email@example.com.