The Death of the Obituary
Whistling past the graveyard: Over strenuous objections from staff, Portland Press Herald editor Jeannine Guttman has axed the featured obituary from the daily paper. Here’s the internal memo from managing editor Bob Crider:
“Effective with this Monday's paper, Jan. 26, we will no longer publish the staff-written "Feature Obituary." Jeannine, I and the other editors gave this a lot of thought. We realize that the staff-written obituary is popular with readers. At the same time, there is redundancy between having the news obituary and the paid obituary on the same person, frequently on the same page. This is also a resource issue, given the staff cutbacks we have had. By eliminating the feature obituary, Mel Creamer and the reporters responsible for them will be freed up to do other work.”
One possible reason Crider authored the memo instead of Guttman is that she went out on medical leave Jan. 20 to have back surgery. Guttman is supposed to be back to work in two or three weeks, unless, of course, the paper is sold in the meantime and a new editor installed in her absence.
Cheering in the boneyard: Anonymous blogger T. Cushing Munjoy has another Crider memo posted today, this one praising the work the Press Herald staff did in covering the inauguration.
Just to put that self-congratulatory missive in perspective, here’s a somewhat different assessment from an e-mail sent to me by a staffer at the Portland paper in response to my recent posting on the coverage:
“Your outrage at the fact the Press Herald wasted upwards of $8,000 to send FOUR people to Washington for the inauguration was nothing compared to the outrage by sensible people in the newsroom. It’s simple what’s going on: Guttman’s gone, and she knows it, so she’s just doing anything on the way out the door. (As an aside, some fun facts: Nearly everything [political correspondent Dieter] Bradbury and [columnist Bill] Nemitz did down there was via phone. They could have done it from Congress Street.”
Don’t close that casket just yet: According to knowledgeable sources, the proposed sale of the Press Herald and the other Blethen holdings in Maine to Maine Media Investments, the group headed by former U.S. Sen. William Cohen, is alive and close to fruition. While there’s a widespread misperception that MMI has only until the end of January to secure financing for the purchase and work out all other issues, that’s incorrect, according to a source familiar with the negotiations.
“Getting it done in January was a goal,” said the source, “but it was never a drop-dead date. It’ll probably happen in February.”
Another informed insider said Cohen and company have lined up the money they need and only minor details remain to be settled.
“It’ll be a different paper by this spring,” said the insider. "Not everyone will be happy with the changes, particularly the people who are going to lose their jobs. But making it different is the only way it’s going to survive.”
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.