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Survey says: “Independent, credible, in-depth, substantiated, detailed, nonpartisan, hard-hitting, courageous”

We got a terrific response from our readers to the survey we sent in January – almost 15 percent of you took the survey, which puts our readers in the “Nobel Prize For Answering Surveys” category. Better still was what found out from you: We got lots of information about how you use our website, where you read our stories, what you think about our stories’ length, and why readers do or don’t contribute financially to our organization. We know better what you think of our name and logo, too, though we got some conflicting answers there: Some of you like our watchdog, and some of you thought it made us look like an advocacy organization for pets. But there was no conflicting information when it comes to what you think of our stories. We were incredibly gratified to see the chart below, which is a compilation of answers to the question, “Which of these words best describes our work? Continue Reading →

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Tables turned: Rob Caldwell interviews Center reporters on “207”

John Christie and Naomi Schalit, the Center’s co-founders and senior reporters, were interviewed recently by Rob Caldwell for his popular news program, “207.” Asked what impact the Center hoped to have, Schalit responded, “We don’t have a dog in the fight — we just want to tell a story so that citizens in Maine can understand what is happening with their government and act knowledgeably as citizens to hold their leaders accountable.” Thanks to Rob Caldwell for turning the tables on the interviewers and asking great questions! Continue Reading →

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Texas experts: States need “SWAT-like teams” to put out oil train fires

States are going to need SWAT-like teams if they want to put out the huge fires that can start when trains carrying crude oil derail, say two men who want to launch a “specialty fire department” in Pennsylvania funded by private and public dollars. Recent derailments have revealed not only safety vulnerabilities, but a “yawning gap in emergency response,” wrote McClatchy Washington Bureau reporter Curtis Tate in the June 17 article – echoing the findings of our Center’s ongoing investigation into the lack of preparedness for such incidents in Maine. The two men, Bob Andrews and Sam Goldwater, are both affiliated with the San-Antonio based Bob Andrews Group, and told McClatchy Washington Bureau they’ve gotten a “favorable response” from state and federal officials they’ve approached. “It is not fair for the community, at the local or state level, to create an environment where well-meaning volunteers will feel compelled to commit themselves to conducting highly-hazardous operations, that they are neither trained, nor equipped to perform,” Andrews testified in March before a Pennsylvania House of Representatives committee. The solution so far has been expanding training for firefighters and other first responders – and an International Association of Fire Fighters spokesman told McClatchy he thinks that’s still the best approach. Continue Reading →

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Sens. Collins, Murray call for R&D to improve rail safety

Smaller railroads often lack the resources for training local emergency responders how to handle hazardous materials, as noted in the first installment of our ongoing investigation into Maine’s preparedness for a rail disaster involving explosive commodities like crude oil. Two top Senate officials – Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Patty Murray, D-Wash. – are leading an effort to get them more federal funding, according to a press release issued today. Making up a third of the national railroad network, the smaller railroads known as short line railroads operate more than 50,000 miles of track. Continue Reading →

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New Hampshire, Maine oil-spill committee concerned by crude-by-rail shipments

The committee that oversees oil spill preparedness in Maine and New Hampshire has “concerns” about the railroad transportation of crude oil through the two states to refineries in New Brunswick. They made those concerns known in their recently issued 2014 work plan. “The deadly oil-train derailment in Lac-Megantic Quebec on July 6, 2013, 10 miles from the Maine border refocused the discussions on needs for improved measures to prevent and mitigate potential incidents,” the Maine & New Hampshire Area Committee plan states. “Closure of the rail line due to the Lac-Megantic incident appears to have stymied rail transport of crude oil through Maine for the time being.”

The plan, which members drew up on February 18 of this year, states that the volume of crude oil-by-rail increased from 14,000 barrels in January 2012, to 100,000 barrels in April 2012, to 750,000 barrels by September 2012. To see the Center’s reporting on the dangers posed by crude oil-by-rail shipments through Maine, see our series, “Lessons from Lac-Mégantic.” Continue Reading →

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How To Make Government More Transparent

You can help us make government more transparent.  Please take a look at this editorial in the Sun Journal which lays out a challenge for Maine for keeping government as open as possible.  We would not be able to do our work as journalists without a strong Freedom of Access Act. “We’d like to see a little statutory muscle added to Maine’s Public Access Ombudsman to really strengthen the public’s right to access records and attend meetings.  

During the Baldacci administration, the Legislature — upon the recommendation of the Right to Know Advisory Committee — created the ombudsman position to review public access complaints and to attempt to mediate disputes regarding Maine’s Freedom of Access Act. Continue Reading →

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Why Democracy needs journalists, lesson #47

In between all the fancy academic language, there’s a lesson in the recently released study by a Dartmouth and a University of Essex professor: Politicians don’t lie as much when they know journalists are watching them. Here’s the abstract of the research paper, “The Effect of Fact-checking on Elites: A field experiment on U.S. state legislators,” by Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler:
Does external monitoring improve democratic performance? Fact-checking has come to play an increasingly important role in political coverage in the United States, but research suggests it may be ineffective at reducing public misperceptions about controversial issues. However, fact-checking might instead help improve political discourse by increasing the reputational costs or risks of spreading misinformation for political elites. To evaluate this deterrent hypothesis, we conducted a field experiment in nine U.S. states in which a randomly assigned group of state legislators were sent a series of letters about the risks to their reputation and electoral security if they are caught making questionable statements. Continue Reading →

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Antidote to politics: Some good reading on the debt limit

Whenever there’s a big news story, it can be hard to get behind the headlines and find useful, unbiased and verifiable information on that particular issue. The news often ends up being dominated by talking heads with an axe to grind. So we’re always delighted when the folks at “Journalist’s Resource,” run by Harvard’s Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, offer up a collection of research to help us understand the issue. Here’s an excerpt from their latest roundup of research on the debt ceiling, which is really helpful for filling in the background on this important, politically charged conflict:
What is the “debt ceiling” and why does it matter? At the most basic level, it is the limit that Congress places on the U.S. Treasury in terms of how much debt it can issue. Continue Reading →

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New study on non-profit news organizations: They’re healthy, but face big challenges

The Pew Research Center has been following the growing non-profit journalism world for several years, charting the progress of groups — including the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting — that were founded to fill the gap in reporting caused by staff cutbacks at traditional news outlets. The nonprofit news sector “is showing some signs of economic health, and most leaders of those outlets express optimism about the future,” conclude the authors of the latest study released this month by Pew.  “But many of these organizations also face substantial challenges to their long-term financial well-being.” For those readers who care about the future of the news industry — and the vital role journalism plays in our democracy — you can read the report here. Continue Reading →

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