Maine State House Press Corps Gets Thinner
Augusta exit: There aren’t a lot of experienced reporters covering Maine state government these days. There aren’t even a lot of inexperienced reporters. The media offices at the Capitol complex have plenty of empty desks and funny echoes.
And they’re about to get more so.
A.J. Higgins of Maine Public Radio is still on the job, the longest tenured guy on the beat. Steve Mistler seems to be trying to adjust to his move from the Lewiston Sun Journal to the MaineToday Media papers, but at least he knows his way around. Glenn Adams is the last man standing at what used to be a sizable Associated Press bureau. The Bangor Daily News has hired former Kennebec Journal reporter Matthew Stone to fill its State House vacancy, but he hasn’t had time yet to cover anything of significance.
Mal Leary of the Capitol News Service is out of action indefinitely recovering from a serious illness. The Sun Journal has been using regional editor Scott Thistle as a part-time replacement for Mistler, but it’s not clear if that’s a permanent assignment. No TV station has devoted significant resources to covering Augusta since consultants told them nobody cares about that stuff.
And then there’s Susan Cover, who’s been reporting on this scene for the Kennebec Journal through three owners. Over the unsettled years, Cover has churned out reams of copy, making her the longest serving MaineToday staff writer on the beat.
But she’s not the highest paid. In fact, newly hired Mistler makes more than she does. That’s not the result of sexism. It’s because they work under different union contracts. Mistler is represented by the Portland Newspaper Guild, the major labor organization at the MTM-owned Portland Press Herald. Cover, a KJ employee, works under a less-lucrative contract with the Waterville Typographical Union.
In years past, the company got around this unequal-pay-for-equal-work dilemma by having KJ reporters work directly with editors at the Augusta paper, while Portland reporters sent their stories to Portland editors. But as the KJ’s editorial staff got smaller and less capable, the responsibility for the State House staffers fell entirely on Press Herald editors. So, Cover was doing the same work, for the same bosses, for less pay.
Eventually, she got fed up.
According to a source at MaineToday and a union source, Cover recently decided enough was enough and has requested a transfer to another job at the KJ, thereby depriving the State House beat of another experienced hand. At this time, it’s not clear if MaineToday will replace her with someone from the Augusta paper who’s less bothered by getting a smaller check than the reporter at the next desk or whether the company will choose another Portland staff writer for the assignment or whether MaineToday will get by with a one-person bureau. (Cover could not be reached for comment.)
In the meantime, there aren’t many eyes and ears paying attention to what’s going on under the Dome. The mainstream media missed the major budget cut to Planned Parenthood that was included in the supplemental budget approved by the Republican-dominated Legislature in the final hours of the recent session, although liberal blogger Gerald Weinand’s invaluable Dirigo Blue site caught that change.
No telling what else the public doesn’t know about because the few remaining reporters at the State House are spread too thin and haven’t caught wind of it. Cover’s departure makes that bad situation even worse.
Unendorsed: MaineToday Media editorial page editor Greg Kesich devoted his May 23 weekly column to endorsements – specifically, why the company’s papers won’t be making any in the June primary election.
According to Kesich, “There is a debate in newsrooms around the country about the value of newspaper endorsements, and the same debate is going on here at the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram. While it plays out in our newspapers, we have decided to stay out of this year’s primaries even though they are hotly contested.”
Kesich added that no long-term decision about endorsements had been made, saying “the question stays open for a while.”
I’m not challenging Kesich’s sincerity in wanting to reassess the value of endorsements by news organizations. There are compelling arguments on both sides of the issue that all media outlets should explore on a regular basis.
But I am curious as to why he ignored a far more obvious concern about MaineToday’s political inclinations. There’s no mention in his piece about majority owner Donald Sussman, who’s not only a major donor to liberal causes but also the husband of Democratic 1st District U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree. While Sussman has said he’ll have no involvement in editorial decisions, it’s difficult to believe the papers he now owns would seriously consider endorsing anyone other than his wife in her bid for re-election. And when it comes to the fall election, is there any doubt how Sussman feels about the U.S. Senate candidacy of his friend, independent Angus King?
Those connections would render the MTM endorsements suspect at best and more likely, worthless. No one would believe they were being made based on any kind of objective analysis of the candidates. Given that credibility problem, it makes sense to forego the whole process.
It also would have made sense for Kesich to have aired that aspect of the problem out in his column, instead of pretending it doesn’t exist.
Radio redux: The previously announced May 3 sale at court-ordered auction of the Nassau Broadcasting stations in Maine turned out to be not quite as final as was indicated here and elsewhere.
It was widely reported that Bill Binnie’s Carlisle Capital and Jeff Shapiro’s Vertical Capital Partners had purchased most of Nassau’s Maine stations for $12.5 million. What wasn’t noted in those stories was that Goldman Sachs, which holds most of Nassau’s debt, had made a “credit bid” of $14 million for the same properties.
On May 22, all that got straightened out in a conference among the parties, with Binnie and Shapiro emerging as the official new owners.
That partnership won’t last long, according to Radio-Info.com. Binnie will assume ownership of most of the Maine and New Hampshire stations to supplement his TV outlet in the Granite State. Shapiro is likely to become sole owner of the Vermont stations.
Al Diamon can be emailed at email@example.com.