Maine’s media community is woeful at best and non-existent at worst. The former purveyors of hard news—the daily publications—have given themselves over to fluff pieces, weekly spin-offs and fake news supplements. While Maine’s newspapers face a challenge, with our state’s, population of just over 1 million, which contributes to flagging circulation numbers, our “flagship” newspaper, headquartered in the state’s largest city of Portland, could attempt to practice journalism, at least occasionally.
While I was spared another patronizing Sunday column this week from the Portland Newspapers’ Jeanne Guttman, I’m sure she’ll be back soon, probably touting their latest journalistic “technique”—the investigative column.
For those who may not be familiar with the Sunday newspaper of the Portland Newspapers (owned by the out-of-state Blethen News company), the Maine Sunday Telegram frequently carries a column by Guttman, the paper’s editor. Guttman regularly sermonizes on the trials, tribulations and difficulties inherent in being a newspaper, or how hard it is being an editor, or some combination of these basic themes. She frequently “shares” with us some “success story” that they’ve had, or gushes about the work of some intern who just wrote their first column, or how her staff all love her and just are the best people she’s ever been associated with (sniff, sniff). OK, so I’m going over the top here. I think you get the drift. All you really need to know about the editor of Maine’s largest paper can be gleaned from this older article in the Portland Phoenix. [This link doesn't appear to be loading; it might be down temporarily, or the story may have disappeared down the memory hole. I'll continue to try to update this link, or find an alternative.--jb]
This Sunday, the MST rolled out a new technique on their front page, or possibly, it was an older technique, I just happened to miss it. At the very top of the front page was an investigative story about overtime costs at the Portland Fire Department. Just in case we might not be aware that the Portland Newspaper’s reporters still practiced investigative journalism, the story was labeled, “Telegram Investigation: Portland Firefighters” in red. Just below it, on the right, above the fold, was another story about a possible ethics violation at the Maine Turnpike Authority. Investigative journalism on the pages of the Maine Sunday Telegram—“Hallelujah and glory be to God!”
Speaking of the turnpike, the Lewiston Sun-Journal, which lies northwest of Portland, as one travels Maine’s major north-south artery, semi-regularly practices journalism of the investigative variety. Better than that, they don’t label their stories, because apparently, S-J readers are familiar that the practice of journalism includes investigative work. In fact, one of their editorial page editors, David Farmer, had a solid investigative piece about how the TABOR initiative was being funded by large out of state interests. With this so-called “people’s revolt” actually part of a well-orchestrated national strategy that has ties to right-of-center conservative and libertarian groups with ties to people like Grover Norquist, Farmer’s piece is the kind of needful reporting that used to pass for news, back when most journalists took their craft seriously and editors demanded much more from their staffs. Newspapers, while they have always been financed by advertising, didn’t always place reporting in the subservient role that it occupies today.
As Chris Busby, one of the few muckraking journalists left in a state that at one time had a proud tradition for that brand of journalism (think the Maine Times, under John Cole), has an editorial (The Bollard's View; August 14, 2006-Blethen foists fake newspaper on Portland) about some of the practices of his hometown newspapers, the Portland Press Herald and the Maine Sunday Telegram.
For those Mainers (and others, from away) who remember the days when reporters reported on the happenings and hi jinks of crooks, criminals and corrupt politicians (often the same people), Busby’s online publication, The Bollard is a worthwhile read. While certainly Portland-centric in content, it’s a refreshing read and will help purge your system from the impaction that is caused by the drivel emanating from the likes of Guttman and Co.
I can hardly wait for next week’s column from my favorite editor. What new journalistic tip or trade secret will she let us in on next? I can only imagine.