Can we have some attribution, please

AUGUSTA — Yes, he registered as a lobbyist four times during his 36-year career as a lawyer. Yes, his law firm represented oil companies. But did independent gubernatorial candidate Eliot Cutler work for big oil companies as a lobbyist for most of his career?

No.

Lead on a Portland Press Herald story

Is this an editorial or a news story? If it’s a news story who is asking the questions and who is answering them. Where’s the attribution?

In the lead paragraphs of this political news story, the reporter, Rebekah Metzler, appears to be both asking questions and answering them. In the process, she comes across sounding like she’s defending Cutler against charges made by one of his opponents, Democrat Libby Mitchell.

The race is tightening, according to the polls, and backers of all candidates are growing sensitive about how the media is treating their choices. So this is no time for a reporter to be indulging in cutesy leads that can be confusing to readers.

It’s true that every reporter aims to write whiz-bang leads that will hook people and draw them into the story. But at the price of skewing reader perception? The rest of Metzler’s story, which appeared in the MaineToday Media newspapers, was arguably fair but like it or not the lead sets the tone for readers. It’s what they remember.

Ambiguous constructions like Metzler’s often smack of opinion. And now more than ever, it’s important for reporters not to opine. This is a practical concern for journalists because opinion continues its insidious creep into news columns.

As readers of As Maine Goes who have often seen their candidates demonized in news stories will attest, opinion has proliferated on Maine media news pages during the current election season. Nationally, It’s likely that this is a big reason for the public’s basement approval rating of the media.

Surely editors at the MTM papers know that from now until next Tuesday, especially since the papers have endorsed Cutler, readers will be thoroughly vetting every story for bias. One proven antidote to that is attribution.

Readers must know any opinion or bias in a news story comes from an attributed source, not from a reporter’s whim.

(And can we have some more careful writing!)

Just noticed that in the original version of this post, Metzler’s name was mangled several times. Apologies. Sloppy work and no excuses.

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