MPBN official touts advantage of local control

Posted Nov. 20, 2008, at 9:44 p.m.
Last modified March 20, 2011, at 6:03 a.m.

ROCKPORT, Maine — Members of the Rockland Rotary Club got a journalism lesson Wednesday.

A former reporter in Russia, David Morse, 59, has served as assistant publisher of the Christian Science Monitor and chief executive officer of Courier Publications in Rockland.

Most recently he has served as an advancement and new media official with Maine Public Broadcasting Network.

“When I left the Courier, I looked at the challenges facing me and I looked at all the media,” he told the group meeting at the Samoset Resort in nearby Rockport.

“What medium is the most important and what medium can contribute the most to solving the problems of the state of Maine, now more than ever?” he said he asked himself.

With that thought in mind, he approached the Maine Public Broadcasting Network and got a job.

“The one thing about Maine Public Broadcasting is that everyone is a stakeholder,” he said of the member-supported network.

One of the problems facing the news business in Maine is absentee ownership of newspapers.

“In 1991, when John McKernan was governor, all the daily newspapers in the state were locally owned,” he said. “In addition, all the newspapers had remarkably low debt.

“We had probably 12 reporters covering Augusta full time,” Morse said. “In Augusta alone, the joke was that the governor couldn’t walk into the bathroom without having a reporter [with him].”

Now there’s just a handful.

Also, with the exception of the Bangor Daily News and the Lewiston Sun Journal, all of the other daily newspapers in the state are owned by out-of-state publishers.

“Most of these publishers bought high and have very high debt,” he said of the out-of-state buyers.

MPBN is facing its own challenges, he said. In the last two years, the network has lost more than 6 percent of its gross revenue from state and federal grants at a time when the organization has been trying to increase its statewide news coverage.

“We are committed to bringing you the daily news, but it is a challenge,” he said.

Morse said the Legislature passed a law calling for the distribution of the signal to be paid for by the state, but Maine is not funding the network at a level the legislation requires, he said. “We put up the towers, and the state said it would pay for the signal.”

Radio is becoming more interactive with its audiences. “Now we’re focusing on new call-in programs where people can call in on issues,” he said.

Morse said he believes that generally when the people in the state are told the problems in government, the people will work to solve them.

“We told people the problems associated with workers’ comp,” he said, “and we solved workers’ comp.”

He’s concerned that if the current financial trend continues, no one will be left to tell people the problems.

“The solution to the state’s problems starts with a reporter shining a light in the dark corners of public policy,” said Morse. “We need that solution more than ever.”

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