Amy Beveridge, news director at WMTW-TV in Portland, said her station decided weeks ago not to publish all the names of suspected prostitution clients of a Zumba instructor in Kennebunk.
“These are people who are accused of misdemeanor crimes,” she said. “We normally don’t run police blotters because we don’t have the time and space.”
Beveridge said WMTW planned to scan the list for public figures or people of “high moral standard,” then decide whether to publish their names.
“We decided that, journalistically speaking, there was no value in just releasing the names,” she said.
Other media outlets, including the Portland Press Herald, the Bangor Daily News and The Associated Press, also decided Monday not to publish the 21 names that police released, without further identifying information such as hometowns, middle initials or street addresses.
Of course, that all changed again Tuesday when a superior court justice reversed himself and ruled that identifying information should be included.
Even before that, however, several media outlets, including WCSH-TV and WGME-TV and the York County Coast Star of Kennebunk, chose to put the names on their websites soon after they were made public by police on Monday.
Multiple calls to news directors or general managers at WGME and WCSH were not returned on Tuesday.
The Coast Star was the only newspaper to publish the names from the outset. Editor Laura Dolce said the community has been “awash in rumors” for months, so she felt that posting the names online would help put some of those rumors to rest.
The list reportedly includes as many as 150 names. Police say they plan to release them in batches.
The Journal Tribune in Biddeford initially put the 21 names online but took them down late Monday night. Managing Editor Kristen Muszynski said the initial decision to publish was made “in the heat of the moment.”
After more thought, the names were taken down to protect innocent people who might share names with those who have been charged, she said.
In an editorial that explained the Journal Tribune’s position to readers, Muszynski criticized authorities’ decision to release some, but not all, identifying information on Monday.
“The names of those charged are readily available through the Kennebunk Police Department, either on their website or at the station, but we don’t believe they belong in this paper,” she wrote. “(The) decision was irresponsible and puts an inappropriate burden on those who happen to share names with the people who are charged.”
Jeffrey Pyle, a media law attorney in Boston, said Monday’s conflicting media coverage was “an unfortunate byproduct” of the judge’s decision to release only the names.
He said media that report information from official reports, such as police logs, typically cannot be sued for libel, “as long as someone is not misidentified.”
That’s where it got tricky on Monday.
One name among the 21 released Monday, Paul Main, is the name of a former York County sheriff’s deputy who ran for sheriff in 2010.
Howie Carr, a Boston talk radio host who often criticizes Democrats, said a “Democratic candidate” was on the list, referring to Main.
That turned out to be untrue.
A producer for Carr’s show did not return a call for comment Tuesday.
In an interview with the Press Herald late Monday, Main chastised police for not releasing more information, saying his phone was ringing constantly and he was having to deny that he was on the list.
“I’m so fricking embarrassed,” he said. “I’m mad at the same time because I’m planning on running for sheriff again … I don’t do stuff like this.”
Al Tompkins, a senior faculty member at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Fla., said he wasn’t surprised to see divergent coverage, but outlets should be careful with their decisions.
“I don’t think it’s journalism to just run whatever someone gives us,” he said. “It’s information. But there is a difference between information and journalism.”
He said the release of names without concrete identification could “cause harm that, with a little more work and time, might be lessened.”
Even media that withheld the names couldn’t stop the flow of information. The Press Herald’s website shut off reader comments on the story shortly before 9 p.m. because commenters were posting the names themselves.
The same thing happened on the Bangor Daily News’ website, although the paper did not shut down comments.
Beveridge said WMTW didn’t plan to change its stance just to capitalize on an opportunity.
“I’m sure we probably missed out on some page views by not publishing the names,” she said. “But there are a lot of things we could post that would get us web hits. That doesn’t make it right.”
Staff Writer Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at: