Old Guard, New Media
The Association could be opening up: The Maine Press Association, long the exclusive domain of the state’s paid-circulation daily and weekly newspapers, will consider an amendment to its bylaws at its Oct. 17 fall meeting to allow free papers, freelancers, and even bloggers to become members. The association’s board of directors has already recommended the change, but it still must be approved by the full membership.
“I think we have to face reality,” said MPA Executive Director Mike Lange. “In the old days, free newspapers were shoppers or throwaways. In recent years, the quality has improved.”
According to Lange, press associations in several other states have opened their memberships to a variety of alternative and new media outlets. He called the move “catching up with the times.”
Several years ago, the MPA rejected a request from the Forecaster weekly to admit free papers that contained a high percentage of editorial content. This time, the MPA probably has little choice but to accept the change. Not only have several weekly papers been forced to drop out of the group after they switched to free circulation in recent years – most of Current Publishing’s papers, for example – but many of MPA’s biggest members, including the Lewiston Sun Journal, the Biddeford Journal Tribune, and the Bangor Daily News, own free papers.
The association has also lost members, as papers struggle with advertising declines. It hopes to lure some of them back by offering reduced rates for groups of papers owned by the same company.
In addition, the MPA will open its doors to affiliate members. The proposed rules define that category broadly as including virtually any company that does business with newspapers. Freelancers, former journalists, and bloggers will also be able to become individual members.
“The whole idea is to make membership more affordable,” said Lange, “to respond to changing times.”
The MPA’s fall meeting will be held at Point Lookout in Northport on Oct. 16 and 17.
Corresponding to his promise: Richard Connor, editor/publisher of the Portland Press Herald, has repeatedly pledged to increase the amount of local news in the paper, and now there’s some indication of how he plans to accomplish that feat. According to a source at the Press Herald, Connor will soon be using correspondents – non-union freelancers – to cover suburban towns around Portland.
The PPH once used such correspondents to report on the burbs, but they were phased out a few years ago to save money. To replace them, a couple of staff reporters were assigned to cover several small towns, while the paper’s bureaus in Biddeford and Brunswick were responsible for municipalities in York County and the mid-coast. Under a round of budget cuts instituted last year by the Press Herald’s previous owner, the Blethen Maine Newspapers, the two bureaus were closed. Staff reporters from the Portland newsroom were assigned to cover some towns in the immediate vicinity, although each of those reporters was also responsible for another beat, such as education, business, the arts or the environment. That often resulted in spotty coverage of both assignments.
Press Herald management is said to be confident it can find qualified stringers to beef up its suburban presence. “There are lots of unemployed journalists with good experience out there,” said a source familiar with the changes. “They expect to have people lining up for the chance to be a correspondent.”
Confusion over closers: The Lewiston Sun Journal got the information right in its print edition, but for some reason, the paper’s online version posted this headline at 3:18 a.m. on August 26:
“Red Sox trade Papelbon for Wagner”
By late morning, somebody must have noticed a sudden spike in heart attacks among Boston baseball fans, and the erroneous information was deleted.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.