Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Monkey and the Engineer

I think after a long day of contemplating this, the Grateful Dead cover song, the Monkey and the Engineer most effectively sums up what has taken place with the Maine Department of Transportation and the more than $100 million of federal funds they are looking to dole out for passenger rail improvements in Maine.

What a shame they are already planning to earmark this federal taxpayer money for rail improvements to serve the wealthiest portion Maine, while leaving the rest of the state's working poor sitting at the station.

A real sad commentary on the power structure here and as some, not me, have said cronyism that's taking place in our state government.

You do have to wonder when these kind of mis-guided proposals come down the track -- no pun intended ...

"Ready to go and has to go since the Governor made promises in closed door meetings.

With no commitment from PanAm Railways to invest, we will give them 100s of millions of our tax dollars. I may make it my mission in life to ensure his legacy is this cronyism."
-- Androscoggin County Commissioner Jonathan LaBonte. (facebook comment)

The monkey in Maine, apparently does have the "main line sewed up tight ..."

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Ca-ching, ca-ching ...

Today's hot topics were a casino and cell phone 9-1-1 calls.

Go figure.

There's a new proposal being floated to build a casino at Bate's Mill No. 5 in Lewiston. The idea has a lot of hurdles to overcome as we saw in the 2008 campaign by Seth Carey in Rumford.

It's a new twist on a relatively old story in Maine politics. Voters have rejected almost all of these attempts in Maine in recent years.

Not to mention there is already a competing measure heading for the ballot in 2010 -- which, if approved, sites a casino in nearby Oxford County.

This is sticky local politics, there are a lot of good people involved on both sides of this issue and remarkably they all seem to have what they believe to be the best interests of the people of Maine at heart.

My hope is the community will have an open, civil and informed discussion on this.

When I saw the online sniping, I thought one way to vent is to vote, so I set up this twit poll. It's totally non-scientific. But I promise it is not rigged but you can only vote once from any isp address.

That's the gist of the poll in long form.

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Here's a map for a bit more detail.

View Bates Mill No. 5 in a larger map

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Lois Lane and Perry White*

Perry WhiteImage via Wikipedia

Holy 48-hour news cycle and hats off to our staff in Norway and Lewiston. We also had a freelancer photographer and volunteer fire fighter lend hand in this coverage. There is more in the works including some large court and crime reports involving drugs, death and mayhem. On the bright side we have kids helping out by giving and stories of pie-baking fundraisers that sell out in a day. What a place this is.

One of our reporters just shot me a note about how she has had to hitchhike rides with firefighters and ambulance drivers to bring back these sad spot news stories over the last two days. These folks have not only helped those in need they have enabled these reports.

Others stories in this recent busy cycle have seen editors and page designers stepping up and heading to the scene. Both to write stories and shoot video but also to do their desk jobs and shuttle colleagues to and from scenes as need be. Photographers at shift's end hanging for one more go. Adept and capable journalists working under tight deadlines with tragic stories.

The stories linked here are examples of community journalism at it's finest and also examples of how a newsroom team and citizen journalists working together can bring compelling and important reports to the community.

This is impressive work by a host of people in some trying times. Especially those volunteer community members who step to the plate again and again to help those in need. Anyway we have been on a rough run into Thanksgiving and I thought all these folks warranted recognition and appreciation.

*Our in house honors are action figures from the Daily Planet. The awards, while named for characters are gender neutral. Lois Lane is given for superhuman reporting efforts, Perry White for editing efforts that go above and beyond the bounds of gravity. We also award the Gecko and Jimmy Olsen -- but that's for another post. :)

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Thursday, November 5, 2009

The keeping 'em honest beat goes on

Today we learned the Lewiston City Council met to interview a candidate for the job of city administrator the only problem is they did it illegally, without giving due notice to the public as required under Maine law. I had a nice conversation with the city's attorney today, who couldn't say officially whether he had been informed of the meeting or not. Two guesses.

If you are going to do something illegal would you tell your lawyer about it first?

The attorney said it wasn't always easy doing the public's business in public and he's right about that. I suggested that while it isn't always pretty to hash things out in the public eye the end result is usually a more understanding public.

I believe pretty strongly that most elected officials really do want to do the right thing and are in it for the best interests of those they serve.

But if you close the doors during the decision-making process, why you made the decision you did becomes less clear and subject to far greater criticism.

The old saying about watching laws and ordinances being made being akin to watching sausage being made -- it ain't pretty -- may be true but in the end. But when we can see how something is actually made we are more likely to understand the decision.

Open meetings protect our government from corruption and graft.

Of course the city official who set up the meeting claims he doesn't know he had to notice the meeting.

The ultimate responsibility rests on the shoulders of the elected officials including the mayor and council president, all of whom have been informed, at length, of the laws governing public meetings in Maine.

Bottom line -- open access to our government is a hallmark of American democracy and those who attempt to block, keep or remove the public from the process are damaging to democracy everywhere. Meanwhile, media turning a blind eye to it, are equally damaging to the process of open government.

That's the big news day for today.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Big week blog...

If it gets any busier around here I'm changing the name of this blog to the big news week blog.
In two days our staff has covered a dozen dramatic spot news stories. Unreal. Here's the quick rundown:
Plane crash, man rescued from burning truck, city council fires top administrator, landmark mill burns, stock car driver dies during practice, a motorcyclists killed after hitting a pick-up head on and a 10-wheeled dump truck breaking through a bridge, landing sideways in a creek. Not to mention a mountain rescue of an injured hiker and another fire at a local lumber mill. That's nearly a year's worth of breaking news in two days and I'm wondering what kind of cycle we are in. For three weeks we gleefully lamented the lack of news.
The old saw, be careful of what you ask for could not ring more true. Here's one shot from today's action. I suspect we will have more before we have less.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A big Maine news day for sure

Today was truly a big news day here in Maine. Especially at our statehouse but around other parts of the state as well. So far no swine flu here but some cases identified in nearby Nova Scotia and not too far away in Quebec. Great comprehensive story here from Canada's Chronicle Herald newspaper. A legislative committee in Augusta cleared the way for Maine to become the fifth state to legalize gay marriage and we learned of a bear sow and her year-old cubs, which were raiding bird feeders and had to be entered into the state's bear relocation program in an attempt to save the animals from being sent to a zoo or a worse fate. Also lots of brush fires sparking up around the state with a hot sunny April day reaching into the 90s. Lawmakers also banned outdoor smoking at State Park Beaches today. You can see a Sun Journal twitter poll on the issue and vote on it yourself here.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Old but new international weekly.

If you haven't checked out the new weekly editions of the Christian Science Monitor, you should.
The paper has transformed itself into a daily Web site and a weekly magazine. At first I was leery of losing my daily fix of international and national news that wasn't all AP and briefed or the NYT spin. But the CSM seems to be pulling it off. The cover story this week is an analysis of the Obama administration so far. Pretty good stuff and interesting to watch how the CSM has converted their operations. My neighbor is an avid reader and an avid reader of the Monitor, his first reaction on the first issue was, "Ho hum." But he did say issue No. 2, this one on Obama was more interesting and compelling.
The reporting has short-form narrative style and the photos are really well-done. Check it out if you get a chance.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Who knew Nixon played the piano. This is kind of interesting.

Quick review of work before vacationing in earnest

We've had two big weeks in the news here in Sun Journal land. This week was punctuated with tragedy with two terrible motorcycle accidents on the same day. But we also had some cheerier stories too like a fun natural science feature on the turmoils of breeding wood frogs. Inside the newsroom we were moving closer and closer to getting our content management system live but also have jumped out ahead of the competition with some of newer online functions. Our live chats with guests from our readership area have been very well-received and lauded. We also expanded our twitter use with a new account called SJscannerland and our awesome web editor has started a directory of our staff twitter users, not live yet, but coming soon.

A staff meeting on breaking news posts added a bonus conversation on the use of twitter and blogging for professionals. Some real giant steps forward this week on several fronts. I think we got both things worked out pretty well and there seems to be this new energy and focus in our newsroom these days.

We have also launched a couple of interesting investigations, in the too-early stages to say too much about -- but both should be big news days when we get all the information together. On about a dozen different layers it's been a busy, creative and productive time for our journalists and it feels great to be a part of such a strong team that's moving in all the right direction. It's also nice to take a much needed rest and reflect on it all.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Making it in the news world today ain't easy

We're on facebook and twitter. We live chat and post breaking news stories. The day of the daily deadline is all but dead.

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