April 14, 2024

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Nonprofit fund buys Press-Herald and other Maine newspapers in landmark deal

Nonprofit fund buys Press-Herald and other Maine newspapers in landmark deal

The National Trust for Local News has entered into an agreement to purchase two Masthead Maine newspapers, including the Portland Press Herald and the Maine Sunday Telegram. Michelle McDonald / Photo Editor

A national nonprofit plans to acquire ownership of five of Maine’s six daily newspapers as part of a landmark deal that could help preserve local news across the state.

the National Fund for Local News It has an agreement to buy the Portland Press Herald and all other assets of Masthead Maine, with a closing date of late July, Reade Brower, owner of Masthead Maine, and Elizabeth Hansen Shapiro, CEO and co-founder of the trust, said in interviews Monday.

“It’s the most independent course I think I could have taken to maintain the independence of journalism and continuity for staff and readers,” Brewer said. “I think they want to continue to run this as a sustainable business, which I love, and I don’t think they’re going to try to deplete resources, which I love.”

Neither Brower nor Hansen Shapiro disclosed the sale price, saying the terms of the deal are confidential.

Along with the Press Herald, the deal includes the Sun Journal in Lewiston, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, the Morning Sentinel in Waterville, the Times Record in Brunswick, and 17 weeklies in southern and western Maine, including the Forecaster group.

More details to come

Many details about what the sale will mean for day-to-day operations are still being worked out, though Hansen Shapiro said the paperwork will continue to be managed by Masthead Maine CEO Lisa DeSisto and her staff.

“Our general framework and set of values ​​is that local news is really critical for communities to be able to coexist and function well,” said Hansen Shapiro.

“We have a comprehensive set of principles and strategies for sustainability and for enhancing local quality of service, but all the details of what that means for research papers is really something we’ll be working closely with Lisa and working with in the community members.”

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On Monday, DeSisto said she was pleased with the sale to the National Trust. “I could not have imagined a better outcome for the future of our newspapers, our staff, and the state of journalism in Maine,” she said.

Masthead Maine has approximately 400 full and part time employees. DeSisto said employee benefits will remain unchanged through the end of the year while more details are worked out on what the sale will mean.

The fund also said it would recognize the four labor unions that currently represent Masthead employees and honor their contracts.

“If you look at what it’s all about, which is the preservation, sustainability, and transformation of local news, that tells me that our commitment, especially at the hyper-local level, is going to be strengthened,” DiSiesto said.

The Herald’s senior press editors gather for their mixed morning news meeting Monday. Clockwise from left: Features Editor Leslie Bridgers, Sports Editor Don Coulter, Executive Editor Steve Greenlee, Opinion Editor Siobhan Brett, City Editor Julia Arenstam, Deputy Managing Editor John Richardson and Web Editor Kathryn Lee. Michelle McDonald / Photo Editor

Steve Greenlee, executive editor of the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram, said he was optimistic about the sale.

“This is the perfect outcome for us, and it’s an amazing opportunity,” said Greenlee. “Those of us who dedicate our lives to journalism do so to serve the greater good, and now our business model will fully support that mission. This may be the most important moment in the history of journalism in Maine.”

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The need for sustainability

The Trust, incorporated in 2021, is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide long-term sustainability for local news sources. It also owns a chain of 24 community newspapers in the suburbs of Denver, Colorado.

The Maine newspaper purchase agreement comes during a difficult economic landscape for newspapers nationwide.

A study last year from Northwestern University’s School of Journalism found that 2,500 newspapers in the US have gone out of business since 2005, including 360 since just before the pandemic in early 2020.

Where newspapers have survived, many have made deep staff cuts.

Some newspapers—particularly large dailies such as The New York Times and The Washington Post—have managed to offset the loss of advertising revenue with a strong increase in digital subscriptions.

Smaller newspapers have moved towards this model as well, but their markets are more limited.

The Press Herald has seen a steady decline in print circulation in recent years, but the number of digital subscribers has increased as more people consume news on computers, tablets and smartphones.

Brewer said Monday there were “several other avenues I could have taken” to sell his newspaper, but declined to say what other entities might have specifically bid.

As part of the National Trust, Hansen Shapiro said the newspapers would continue to operate as a business with revenue coming from advertising and subscriptions. But ownership of the nonprofit will make the papers eligible for charitable support.

“It adds potential for a different kind of investment and support than other forms, which is a really important part of long-term sustainability,” she said.

From left: Julia Arenstam, deputy managing editor John Richardson and web editor Katherine Lee at the Press Herald’s morning news meeting on Monday. Michelle McDonald / Photo Editor

“Very exciting”

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Shortly after Brewer announced in late March that he was exploring selling his media holdings, retired Press Herald writer Bill Nimitz announced the formation of the Maine Journalism Foundation, a new nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving local news in Maine.

Nimitz, the foundation’s president, said Monday he was “extremely pleased” with Brewer’s sale to the National Endowment for Local News.

He said the Maine Press Foundation had received a great deal of support from people across the state making donations small and large, but in late May the foundation realized it was likely to fail in its attempt to buy newspapers.

“We were in the process of rethinking our mission and looking at other options when we were approached with the National Trust and soon began working with them,” Nimitz said.

The foundation continues to work with the National Trust, and Hansen-Shapiro said more details will come as to what the long-term relationship between the two will be.

“This is a huge celebration for them as well and they’ve been right on our side from the moment we started this,” said Hansen Shapiro. “We are very grateful for their cooperation and support.”

This story will be updated.

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