Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A Good Dose of Disinfectant

I was in a meeting a couple of weeks ago with a cross-section of the local business community. The topic pertained to a function of state government that was experiencing issues with funding, as well as effectiveness. With frankness and forthright conviction rarely uttered by politicians, this business leader said, “why don’t we just blow it up and start over.” With nods from around the room, it was obvious that this fellow had scored some points with his clarity.

In my opinion, part of government’s inefficiency stems from organizational dynamics and energies that aren’t readily manipulated. While much lip service gets paid to reform and redesigning bureaucratic structures, the size of the behemoth grows larger, as does the funding needed to perpetuate inefficiency. How is it that we define insanity?

Lately, I find myself coming face-to-face with information and inefficiencies that cry out for investigation, but there seems to be very little, if any of that being done in Maine at this time.

Last Wednesday, Lance Dutson of Maine Impact had an excellent opinion piece published at, about media in Maine. He was addressing a previous column written by Jeannine Guttman, editor of Maine’s largest newspaper, about her column trumpeting her paper’s march forward into the land of blogging and social media. As happens regularly, Guttman missed the forest for the trees.

While many of Maine’s newspapers race to embrace the latest technological fad to stem the bleeding caused by tanking readership, the problem seems obvious to me. At the risk of being overly simplistic, here’s my prescription for Maine’s newspapers—give people something to read and they’ll read it. Better yet, get back to the practice of journalism and reporting on the news and some of the real issues in our state and stop pandering to the lowest common denominator (or the state’s power brokers).

As Dutson recognizes, the growth of new media has been driven by the clamor for journalism that seeks to hold leaders accountable, at all levels—local, state and national. Guttman thinks that merely assigning her staff the task of blogging will ultimately bridge the chasm caused by the public’s perception that newspapers no longer have any credibility. She couldn’t be any further from the truth.

As Dutson writes, “A legion of Press Herald bloggers will ultimately fail to produce results until the policies that cause the print media to come up so short are changed. A digital version of a sanitized press leaves the public in the exact same position as before, except for less paper to use in the fireplace.

There is a troubling diminution in Maine's traditional press for actual inquisitive reporting. Across the nation, blogs are filling this void. Maine's press corps seems to have abandoned the idea of probing into the subjects they cover, as if the concept of impartiality has paralyzed them.

The media, more so than government, sets the dialogue in a community. They provide the ultimate check and balance between the citizenry and its elected officials. When improprieties are ignored, the press becomes complicit.

The near-manic concern for decorum among Maine's traditional press has resulted in a disenfranchised public, cheated out of a thorough understanding of a reality the press has a responsibility to reveal.”

The issue couldn’t be clearer. We need at least one newspaper, or media source in this state that is willing to report the news and hold our elected officials accountable. I don’t see anything remotely close to that happening, other than at isolated outposts on the web.

With that being said, blogging remains the post-modern equivalent to the pamphleteers of the past, like Tom Paine, Voltaire and others, who were willing to shine the light of truth on the so-called leaders of their day.

As the late Louis Brandeis so concisely put it, “sunlight is the best disinfectant.” Maine (and many other places across our land) needs some disinfecting done in the worst possible way.

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