Message to the Young Man

A few months ago, my wife noticed this simple, beautiful and a little bit sad classified ad, and I impulsively snapped a photo of it. When I’m looking through photos, it’s still one that I stop to read, especially when I want a smile or reminder of the good, and whimsy, of the people around us.

Did the Young Man ever see the ad? Did he ever recover the lid? It almost doesn’t matter. Just the existence of the ad proves that somebody moved beyond thought into action. IMG_0330.JPG

Angus King for US Senate

Former Maine Governor and Senate hopeful Angus King

Maine is lucky to have six five people running for our open US Senate seat. While Olympia Snowe will be extremely difficult to replace in terms of her stature and impact, two people running have the best chance to follow in her principled footsteps.

Former Governor Angus King has been the front-runner in the race since announcing his candidacy in March, both in terms of poll numbers and contributions. While Mr. King is running as an independent, he’s been consistently coy and curiously vague when asked whether he’ll caucus with Democrats if elected. Ironically, if that worst-case scenario plays out, King may end up being less independent than Republican Olympia Snowe.

Current Maine secretary of state Charlie Summers is a public servant, successful businessperson, and Iraq War veteran. While I consider him qualified and likely to rise to the calling of the office, unfortunately Mr. Summers’ campaign — and it’s many surrogates — have waged a nasty, often times untrue and completely negative campaigned aimed solely at making Mr. King look bad.

Lacking any shred of positive message and offering nothing other than defensive reasons to elect Mr. Summers, his campaign has never shed the pall of a desperate, angry crusade by a major party that appears more concerned with power and control than with carrying on Ms. Snowe’s impressive and honorable legacy.

Like Mr. Summers, Mr. King is an experienced business person and public servant. While Mr. Summers has squandered his impressive record on a soulless campaign, Mr. King has run a positive campaign, largely by himself and supported by his record and vision, without the excessive and aggressive push of party insiders and special interests bent on claiming his seat.

Both candidates earned the right to be considered. Angus King deserves to be our next senator because he has more clearly laid out his vision for following in Olympia Snowe’s footsteps as a leader free of insurmountable debt to a power-hungry major party.

No one politician can, as Mr. King has suggested, “fix” Washington. But if we elect a leader who can remain independent — not just use it as a prop to get elected — that’s a step in the right direction.

Bangor Daily News blurs the line between news and advertising

The Bangor Daily News is back at it with more ethically-questionable practices on its website, this time in the form of its new “BDN Marketplace News” section which attempts to disguise advertisements as news headlines.

A screenshot of the BDN Marketplace News section
A screenshot of the BDN Marketplace News section

What’s Going On?

At the bottom of article pages, the “BDN Marketplace News” appears directly under a larger “Similar Articles” heading, and uses the same font styles and layout as article headlines. Most deceptive, though, is the inclusion of the word “News”, clearly meant to suggest to visitors that those headlines are news.

This approach goes even beyond the practice employed by some other news websites that place advertisements within a “Related Sites” or “Around the Web” element; in those cases the elements are clearly marked as “Sponsored” or “Advertisements”, or they actually point to relevant articles, not to ads.

What’s the Problem?

It should be pretty clear: The “BDN Marketplace News” advertising element is intentionally designed to deceive visitors; that kind of attitude towards the people who give you traffic and ad revenue is a short-sighted and doomed strategy which absolutely threatens the paper’s long-term health. Combined with my coverage of the BDN’s deceptive “ad bar” back in January 2011, this creates a disturbing pattern of disrespect for visitors that should be addressed immediately.

What can they do?

The Bangor Daily News should immediately revise the “BDN Marketplace News” section to include a clear disclaimer that the links are “Advertising” or “Sponsored Listings” or similar language. To go one step further, they should also link the disclaimer to a page with more information about the Marketplace and how listings are added. This kind of update wouldn’t put them ahead of the pack on ethics, but it would bring them in line with current standards in the newspaper industry.

In the rush to shore up revenues, it can be easy to clutter up a website with a variety of “innovative” advertising placements, but a company that cares about its audience and is interested in long-term growth over short-term fixes can and should be held to a higher standard.

 

MaineOpenGov.org is a revolutionary new website which creates some amazing opportunities for enterprising journalists, bloggers, and citizens to ask questions in public and among friends about our state government and back them up with facts.

How and why? The how is simple: Sponsored by the Maine Heritage Policy Center, the MaineOpenGov.org website provides a powerful, usable search engine which allows for thousands of public records to be searched on a variety of metrics. From state employee salaries to state payments to outside contractors, citizens can access a variety of information previously difficult to obtain, or unavailable altogether.

The why is equally simple: Transparency and accountability, two forces which are not only severely lacking in almost every government enterprise, but which can be powerful change agents for citizens to hold their elected (and non-elected) officials accountable.

Anybody with an internet connection (or access to a library) can search for patterns- or even single instances- of data, and use that information to tell their friends, publish it on a blog, or contact their representative(s).

This is big stuff, people of Maine- I hope to dive more into it in the coming weeks, and I encourage other Maine citizens to do the same. It’s at MaineOpenGov.org– give it a minute of your time today, even out of curiosity’s sake.

And on a side note, how have I not heard of the Maine Heritage Policy Center before? Judging by the MaineOpenGov site, as well as their organizational website, they are definitely an organization to watch, right in our own backyard.

Allen campaign calls race “in play” thanks to internal poll

The Bangor Daily News, my hometown paper, released the results of a poll today for the Maine senate race between Senator Susan Collins and Representative Tom Allen. If you’re not from Maine, you may vaguely know the race started off generating a ton of interest by out-of-state organizations such as MoveOn.org, but it has since been relegated to the lower tiers of watched races, as poll after poll have shown a large lead by Sen. Collins over her challenger, Rep. Allen.

Today’s poll completely supports the entire vibe (and the several other polls) in the race so far, this time with Collins leading Allen by 55-39 in a poll of 675 “likely voters” by the Daily News and local news stations WCSH and WLBZ.

In a textbook attempt to respond to these poll numbers (or actually, not respond to them), Allen spokesperson Carol Andrews told the Bangor Daily News that:

“Reliable polling conducted internally [by the Allen campaign] shows this race to be very much in play and far closer than those margins.”

Of course, no specifics were included with her comment. Possibly because Andrews is mis-representing her campaign’s polling in order to try and de-emphasize the media report. If that’s the case, it’s an unfortunate example of posturing on behalf of Allen’s campaign. If the internal polling is true, why not release the numbers in an effort to try and boost Represenative Allen’s standing in the race?

To try and resolve this question, I reached out to Andrews and the Allen campaign and see if they want to qualify their claims that internal polls show Rep. Allen much closer to Sen. Collins in the race.

In response to Andrews’ claim, here’s the email I sent to the Allen campaign’s press department today:

Dear press dept:

In today’s Bangor Daily News, Allen For Senate campaign spokesperson Carol Andrews stated that “Reliable polling conducted internally shows this race to be very much in play and far closer than those margins.”

Please send me specific results from the poll(s) referenced by Andrews, along with dates and sample. I will be happy to publish this data on my blog so that the people of Maine can see what Andrews is claiming about the race.

Thank you for your consideration.

Best,
Jason

I’ll post an update here if I receive any response.

Congrats to Lance Dutson- and the Collins campaign

Congratulations to my friend and occasional co-conspirator Lance Dutson, who announced today he’s taking a job as Director of Internet Strategy for Maine Senator Susan Collins’ re-election campaign.

As I can attest but many already know, Lance is razor-sharp and as forward on the curve as anybody I’ve met when it comes to seeing, exploring, and making great things come from the tools of new media. He and I have shared many great conversations about the ways that Maine politicians can better harness these technologies, and I’m happy that he has a chance to put his ideas to the test. I expect great things for the campaign and for the people of Maine.

For the Maine residents who think this inside politics talk a year before the election, please let me share my explanation for why Lance’s hire is much more important than that. With Congressman Tom Allen jump-starting his bid for Senator Collins’ seat, the “netroots”, or the very far left liberal blogosphere for those not familiar, already have their sights set on taking this seat, handing it to Congressman Allen, and putting the Senate further under democratic party control. With netroots attention comes thousands, potentially millions, of dollars of out-of-state money– not to mention opinions– from people across the country, all brought to bare towards the goal of defeating Senator Collins. Since those who watch politics closely already know that the left is doing a superior job marshaling online resources and money in this way via new media channels that we’re frankly behind on in Maine, it’s easy to see how Maine people can potentially be left out of deciding who becomes their next Senator.

If you don’t like those prospects– if you want the race to be about Maine issues, decided primarily by Maine people– then you recognize that a strong new media force to face that of Allen’s out-of-state netroots supporters is not only necessary, but critical. I have the highest hopes that with Lance working for Senator Collins in this capacity, her fortunes- and thus ours as Mainers- have improved greatly.

National prizes honor Maine journalists

Congratulations to two Maine journalists for recently winning two significant national honors:

Richard Anderson, publisher of Village Soup, has been awarded a Knight Foundation grant for $885,000 to take the platform and technology behind the VillageSoup websites and make them open-source.

Alicia Anstead, a Bangor Daily News columnist, has been awarded a Nieman Fellowship to study at Harvard University. Anstead “represents exactly the kind of journalist we were hoping to attract: someone with a deep commitment to the local community,” according to an AP article on the announcement.

Exclusive: Bangor daily paper preps its entry into citizen’s journalism landscape

Following several recent efforts to create a more interactive website, the Bangor Daily News is on the verge of launching a new user-generated content section, jasonclarke.org has learned.

“We are launching a brand new community publishing platform”, Online Services Manager Tim Archambault said in an email interview. He gives the timetable for the launch as “the next couple of days.”

The new community section will replace the News’ soon-to-be-former community.bangornews.com, a collection of staff-written blogs presented as a separate website and promoted sparingly on the bangordailynews.com homepage. Archambault describes traffic for the outgoing community site as “not overly strong.”

emilyrockblogster1.gif

Rock Blogster, one of the current Bangor Daily News blogs

Though he won’t disclose specific plans for the new section, Archambault says that it will “hopefully [include] any and all content the public deems important.” Given this description, the News’ new “community” platform is likely to expand upon the current crop of staff-written blogs to invite contributions of text, photos, and potentially video from people in the News service area, which stretches from north of Bangor to the coastal regions and into central Maine towns like Newport.

The revamped section will be the third incarnation of blogs in some format for the paper since September 2005, when it launched blogs on Hurricane Katrina and energy issues. In its most recent incarnation, the community.bangornews.com domain features corporate-produced blogs on Maine politics, personal advice, area music, and the Red Sox spring training season, “all of [which]” will be carried over into the new community website, according to Archambault.

“This platform is all about
community involvement.”

-Tim Archambault, Bangor Daily News

If it opts to expand its interactive components beyonds blogs to accept user-generated content, the News will follow a trend many national newspapers are pursuing in the wake of falling advertising revenues and subscription counts. But it faces stiff competition from two other Maine papers that already have a head-start publishing a variety of content submitted by readers. Both the coastal region Village Soup website and Blethen Maine Newspapers’ My.MaineToday.com feature a variety of user-generated content ranging from comments on articles to local events listings to photographs of local happenings. Up-ending the traditional “top-down” model, content in the My.MaineToday.com site, for example, is not written by reporters or newspaper staff but rather uploaded and managed by website visitors.

Inviting local citizens to help create the content of a local or regional news site is a bold strategic move for media outlets struggling to grow readership, but it can also be a risky proposition. One of the emerging “citizen’s journalism” movement’s early leaders, Backfence.com, opened to great fanfare in 2006 only to struggle mightily throughout its early existence. Earlier this year, the Washington Post reported that one of the company’s founders had left amid struggles with investors over how best to expand the organization, which had struggled to attract contributions from people even in heavily-populated suburban areas such as Reston, Virginia.

That said, the Bangor Daily News is not dealing with the exact same challenges as Backfence.com. While the News readership is comprised of less population than the suburban areas targeted by Backfence.com, it covers a wider geographic footprint and competes amidst a less-crowded media marketplace. However, the News still faces other challenges inherent in launching any user-generated news venture, such as “will people care?” and perhaps more importantly, “will they even visit?”

To meet these challenges, Archambault says the BDN will “absolutely” give the new community section more visibility on the bangordailynews.com website. He also hints the News will “hopefully” cross-promote the people’s contributions by re-purposing online content for the printed paper. If that’s the case, Maine could be the home to a third major community-driven news venture as early as this summer.