It's how the facts are arranged that counts
Most readers would expect that factual reporting should result in a solid news story. Usually they would be right, but not always.
Often it is how facts are chosen (or not chosen) and how they are arranged that counts most. Let's take news stories relating to Gov, Paul LePage. How often have you seen a positive story spun negatively simply by selecting and arranging facts? The likely answer: too many.
For example, AMG contributor Vic Berardelli, who has a journalism and public relations background, noticed a peculiar twist in the Portland Press Herald's recent account of a meeting set up by Maine business leaders. They wanted to hear about how the Governor would deal with the myriad of regulations burdening Maine businesses and hurting the state's economy;.
The reporter who covered the affair, Tom Bell, a PPH veteran but new on MaineToday Media's State House staff, got barely three paragraphs into his story when he allowed himself to be sidetracked.
LePage had been quoted only briefly before a naysayer named Peter Didisheim from the Maine Natural Resources Council was allowed to enter the story and speculate at length about the Governor's perceived lack of fairness.
What readers got were several paragraphs of disrespect for the ideas advanced at the meeting before they ever got to read about them. How fair is that?
As Berardelli puts it: "Paragraphs 4,5,6,7 and 8 could only have been placed that high if the writer and/or editors had an agenda. Otherwise, as a hard news story, it is out of place and fogs the fact that this wasn't an Administration function but a meeting of an organization's membership."
Once the article got back on track, however, the tone was different. Readers finally got to listen to successful business leaders like Steve DiMillo of DiMillo's Floating Restaurant and Ann Gauthier of National Semiconductor give their encouraging views on the future of the state's economy.
Which is what the audience at the meeting and what most readers of the article wanted to hear.
Readers also got a sense of the powerful hope in the business community that doing business in Maine is going to be easier under the new administration than it has been for the past 30 or more years.
But there was another side of the story as there usually is. And it's okay to interject opposing viewpoints into a story for balance (although that was done all too selectively during the previous administration). But to place them so high -- even before the rest of story is told? Well, that is very unusual and, as Berardelli notes, it appears intentional on someone's part.
On the face of it, it doesn't seem to be something an old journalistic pro like Bell would do. Even if he intended to do so, it's way too obvious. It's a choice that carries the earmarks of an editor, and not a very proficient one, operating on the story.
But we don't know for sure. Strange and unprofessional things can and too often do happen when the liberally-oriented media reports on a conservative state official.
This is a fact that Maine's newspaper readers may be observing almost daily as the new Governor tries to set Maine's staggering economy on a more productive course.