Thursday, March 1, 2012

Rating the #Snowe coverage - print and online

Published at

In the hours and days following last Tuesday’s shocker announcement that US Senator Olympia Snowe will not seek a fourth term in the Senate, the breaking-news ability of Maine’s mainstream press has been stretched in ways it hasn’t been in recent memory. This was no disaster/fire/accident story, where flames are visible and the players all gather in one place.

Rather, it was a political story, touched off by an email blast, with players around the state (and around the nation, if you count the major parties’ senate-campaign power brokers). And much of the early reporting was gut reaction (the governor swore; Dems rejoiced) followed by speculation about what it meant for not only the US Senate race in Maine, but nationally for the balance of power in the Senate, as well as statewide, regarding Congressional seats, and legislative ones too, as every political climber in the state saw real daylight above them for the first time in many years.

As such, it was a prime opportunity for the daily newspapers to step up and embrace what mainstream media outlets still quaintly call “new media.” Which is to say, the power of the Internet to reach and engage their audiences.

Unsurprisingly, it was the Sun Journal, led by energetic “new media director” Tony Ronzio, that led the pack, posting an early collection of reaction and preliminary analysis on Storify. (It included the pair of tweets breaking the news, from former SJ political reporter Rebekah Metzler, now at US News and World Report.)

The day after Snowe’s announcement, he hosted a CoverItLive chat with various political-watchers and several readers. The conversation was kept moving by interjections of facts, often provided by Sun Journal political reporter Steve Mistler (who also blogged up a storm) and regional editor Scott Thistle, but also supplemented by UMaine Campus editor Michael Shepherd. It was also supplemented by a series of ongoing polls on thought-provoking questions — about who can win (Michaud and Cutler tied, then Pingree, Summers, and King; Raye’s got no shot ), who in DC will miss Snowe most (Collins over Obama, with Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid tied for third), and who Snowe’s announcement hurts most (GOP over Dems, independents not at all)

The Bangor Daily News came in second, with strong contributions from the political blogs PineTreePolitics and PollWays (though neither is written by a staffer, and PollWays writer Amy Fried, a UMaine political scientist, was in the Sun Journal’s online chat), and a rudimentary — and uninteresting — online poll asking if readers were “sad to see Olympia Snowe leave her Senate seat.”

The Press Herald had a weak online showing, with several reported stories and columns, but for online-extras, there was just a slideshow of file photos of Snowe through the years and MaineToday Digital executive editor Angie Muhs’s Storify collection, which started about five hours after the news actually broke, leaving her posting just a bunch of reactive and speculative tweets, though admittedly grouped by theme (“caught many off guard,” “political speculation,” “reaction from those already in the race,” “Snowe was quickly praised,” and the like).

In related news, the TV stations’ general managers just saw their finances perk up considerably. Whatever happens, there’s going to be a massive amount of money spent on TV ads. How much? Snowe herself had about $3 million in the bank — to defend a secure seat. Now that it’s open, the numbers will be astronomical.