By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Tag: Masthead Maine

The Portland Press Herald and its 21 other papers are sold to a national nonprofit

Portland Press Herald mailbox

Photo (cc) 2022 by Jules Verne Times Two

The news about the news doesn’t get much better than this: The National Trust for Local News will acquire Maine’s Portland Press Herald and its affiliated four daily newspapers and 17 weeklies. The deal was announced earlier today. Although not all details of the sale are known, early indications are that the papers will remain for-profit entities under nonprofit ownership. The papers, known collectively as Masthead Maine, will continue to be managed by chief executive officer Lisa DeSisto.

According to Rachel Ohm of the Press Herald, the National Trust emerged as the buyer after the recently formed Maine Journalism Foundation, or MaineJF, fell short in its efforts to raise enough money to buy the papers on its own. MaineJF, also a nonprofit, then started working with the National Trust. Elizabeth Hansen Shapiro, the co-founder and CEO of the National Trust, told the Press Herald that the two organizations are continuing to work together, although it was unclear what ongoing role the foundation might have. The foundation, by the way, would have reorganized the papers as nonprofits; based on Ohm’s story, it sounds like that’s no longer on the table.

The papers were purchased in 2018 by Reade Brower, a printer who acquired them from billionaire owner Donald Sussman. Brower built a reputation as a solid steward who nevertheless was not averse to making cuts in order to stave off losses. Hansen Shapiro would not disclose what the National Trust paid, but it’s likely that Brower could have gotten more from a corporate chain looking to swoop in, gut newsrooms and squeeze out revenues. If that’s the case, then Brower deserves credit for putting his legacy above making every possible dollar.

The independently owned Bangor Daily News remains the only daily in the state that isn’t part of Masthead Maine.

The governance structure of the new ownership has yet to be announced, and maybe even the principals don’t quite know what it will look like yet. The National Trust is best known for rescuing a group of weekly and monthly papers in suburban Denver back in 2021, and now owns them in conjunction with The Colorado Sun, a well-regarded for-profit digital startup.


A new group in Maine would reorganize the Portland Press Herald as a nonprofit

The Maine Sunday Telegram is the name of Sunday’s Portland Press Herald

Last month we learned that Reade Brower was getting ready to sell Maine’s Portland Press Herald and several other newspapers. Today we received good news: a nonprofit organization is hoping to acquire those papers and run them for the benefit of the public.

Retired Press Herald columnist Bill Nemitz, president of the newly formed Maine Journalism Foundation, writes that the nonprofit aims to buy Brower’s five daily and 25 weekly newspapers, known collectively as Masthead Maine, to “sustain and nurture Maine’s reputation as a bastion for independent local news.” Nemitz adds:

We at MaineJF want to be the next to carry the Masthead Maine banner. Our goal initially is to acquire the company and operate the various publications as a nonprofit. Beyond that, we will seek ways to enhance all journalism in Maine through targeted support for and collaboration with our media colleagues. Maine Public, for one, comes to mind.

In recent years, several papers have been acquired by nonprofit foundations, but the papers themselves continue to be for-profits. The most prominent example of that is The Philadelphia Inquirer. By contrast, Nemitz’s description sounds like the Press Herald and its sister papers will themselves be nonprofits, joining the Salt Lake Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times, both of which have been reorganized as nonprofits.

Nonprofit status removes the pressure of having to satisfy investors, but it does come with some disadvantages as well: a nonprofit newspaper can’t endorse political candidates or specific pieces of legislation. Last fall the Press Herald published endorsements on ballot questions but not for candidates. As a nonprofit, it wouldn’t be able to do either.

Nemitz said that the new foundation is seeking to raise $15 million from large and small donors to buy all of Brower’s papers.

Brower, by all accounts, has been a good steward of the Press Herald. When he announced last month that he was seeking to offload his papers, he said he wanted to leave them in good hands, and he specifically mentioned a nonprofit organization or a public benefit corporation. Now it looks like he’ll get his wish — provided MaineJF can accomplish its fundraising goals.

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