While most readers agreed that 2002 was not a "big"
news year compared to the events that shocked the nation in 2001, picking
the top stories in Maine for this year remained a daunting task.
"There were really a lot of things vying for our sympathy and attention this year," said Susan Thompson of Scarborough.
Readers and staff of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram
agreed that this year's top story was the sexual abuse scandal in the Roman
Catholic Church, which involved the Portland Diocese.
Finishing at a close second in the reader survey was the controversy
in Lewiston that occurred after the mayor asked the Somali community to discourage
more immigration to the city because of the strain on city resources.
John Maddaus, a professor at the University of Southern Maine, called that story the most important of the year.
"I think it's a major issue that people in Maine have to deal with
now that we're becoming a more diverse state than we've ever been," he said.
Rounding out the top stories for readers were Chebeague Islanders'
warning of a tax revolt; the Patriots victory in the Super Bowl; and the
newspaper's series on the state's lack of facilities and services for mentally
Readers responded to the survey either via the Internet or by mailing
in ballots that ran in the newspaper. They ranked 10 stories from a list
Their choices were largely similar to picks made by editors and reporters,
although the journalists' top five was rounded out by the Allagash crash
that killed 14 migrant workers; Gov. Angus King's plan to cover a $248 million
shortfall in the budget; and the proposal to bring a Foxwoods-style casino
to Maine - a story that did not make the top 10 for readers.
Readers and staff also disagreed on the importance of Maine's worst-ever
drought and the establishment of new groundfishing regulations.
While some readers tried to pick stories they thought affected the
most people, such as the drought or the plight of mentally ill children,
other readers said they picked those stories that meant the most to them.
This year's voting was especially personal for David O'Brion of Falmouth.
O'Brion's nephew, Nathaniel MacConnell, was one of the three teenagers killed
in a drunken driving accident on Tukey's Bridge.
"That is the only story of the year right now, probably for the next couple of years, for us," he said.
Kris Larson, a blueberry raker and photographer living in East Machias,
said he was touched by the coverage of the Allagash crash because he has
worked with many migrant workers.
"I just felt that was the story," he said. "(The migrant workers) are
the salt of the earth and I have a lot of respect for them."
At least one voter said he felt the Patriots' Super Bowl win was the story of the year.
"People in New England have been waiting for something like that for a long time," said Stuart Dexter, an accountant in Orono.
Dexter said that he did vote for the more "important issues," such
as the looming budget crisis and the priest abuse scandals, but the Patriots
had the virtue of doing something few news stories can do.
"It made me feel pretty proud to live in New England," he said.
Staff Writer Jen Fish can be contacted at 282-8229 or at: