MaineToday Media’s Weak Political Coverage
The MaineToday Media newspapers now employ more experienced political reporters than the Bangor Daily News and Lewiston Sun Journal combined. Nevertheless, MaineToday’s reporting on the U.S. Senate race and other hot state political issues can charitably be described as lame.
The reason for that disconnect between staff size and product quality must lie in the papers’ editorial offices, where inexplicable decisions appear to have resulted in a squandering of resources.
Let’s start with the weekly State House Notebook column that runs on Mondays in the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal, and Morning Sentinel. Until recently, this feature contained fresh material on legislative happenings and campaign-trail tidbits. But for the past couple of weeks, it’s been composed entirely of items that were posted during the preceding seven days on MTM’s political blogs, Capitol Ticker and Open Season.
That’s right. MaineToday is filling its print product with several-days-old material that it’s already offered online for free. As a marketing concept, that ranks right up there with DeCoster eggs.
Keep in mind that MTM has three full-time reporters at the State House, plus two others who cover politics on a part-time basis and a new hire about to start. With that many feet on the street, how hard could it be to come with some real news for Monday mornings?
Of course, Monday isn't the only day suffering from that problem. The May 20 Maine Sunday Telegram, another MaineToday publication, carried a front-page article by staff writer Colin Woodard on the financing of the Senate race. (Woodard also is a contributing editor for Down East magazine.)
It was based on reports filed by the campaigns by April 15.
It would be one thing if the lengthy Telegram article broke new ground, but except for a couple of minor points, it didn’t.
Finally, there’s the series of U.S. Senate candidate profiles that began in the MTM papers on May 21 with a piece on Republican Richard Bennett. The story by staff writer John Richardson contains much useful information, including Bennett’s stands on specific issues and his voting record as a legislator. But with the exception of one vaguely worded paragraph on sleazy campaign tactics employed in the 2002 campaign, it tiptoes around any specific criticism of the candidate. Surely, someone with as lengthy a political career as Bennett has a few foes with specific complaints they’d be willing to put on the record. Without that perspective, no candidate profile is properly doing its job of informing the electorate.
MaineToday Media has been building up its reporting corps for months without doing a noticeably better job of covering the election. Perhaps that’s because sheer numbers mean little if nobody is making good use of the talent at hand (of which there’s a great deal). It might be time to put more money into a few good editors.
Al Diamon can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.