As the Blethen Turns
Deadline? What deadline? The sale of the Blethen Maine Newspapers to Maine Media Investments was supposed to be completed by the end of 2008, so Blethen could write off the profits from a real estate deal in Washington state against the huge loss it would take by dumping three dailies – the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. But according to reporter Bill Richards, writing on crosscut.com, the sale of five acres of valuable land in South Lake Union, Wash., never happened. It’s not clear if the land transaction was delayed until 2009 to give MMI more time to line up its financing, or if the real estate deal ran into problems of its own. Either way, Blethen is without cash it was counting on to make payments on at least $91 million in loans from several banks. Much of that debt is the result of $230 million in borrowing for the 1998 purchase of the Maine papers. Richards reports the delays in closing the sale with MMI may further exacerbate Blethen’s financial problems, because the value of the company’s Maine assets continues to decline.
“These days, according to knowledgeable people in Maine, the chain’s value may lie solely in its real estate, which is assessed at $28 million,” he writes.
If that’s true, Robert Bickler just got promoted to a really lousy job. Bickler has taken over as president and chief executive officer of the Blethen holdings in the state, replacing Charles Cochrane. Cochrane will continue to oversee the negotiations with MMI on the sale.
Who’s Bickler? He’s been president and general manager of the Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram for the last five years. Other than that, about the only information given in the Dec. 31 Press Herald story on his elevation by staff writer Dieter Bradbury is this curious quote from the new head honcho: “Journalism is what makes me tick.”
Why this story is so lacking in details on the new president’s background is curious. It’s also curious that Bickler would even want the job, since within a few weeks, the Blethens will be out, which, presumably, leaves him jobless. Has he made some kind of deal with MMI to stay on as the new owners’ hatchet man, taking the heat for the deep cuts in staff, product and distribution expected after the sale is completed?
Don’t expect answers to those questions from PPH editor Jeannine Guttman, whose weekly column in the Jan. 4 Telegram was, predictably, a weepy valentine to the departing Cochrane.
Not recommended for readers with weak stomachs.
And what of T. Cushing Munjoy, the pseudonymous blogger and Press Herald critic? He’s uncovered a half-million dollar misstep made by Blethen management in Maine a decade ago that may have contributed to the papers’ current financial and editorial crises.
Could the situation possibly get worse?
Well, actually, it could.
On Jan. 1, the Press Herald’s “Go” weekly entertainment supplement was missing the sharp and sprightly reviews of new DVD releases done by the staff of Videoport in Portland. In its place was a dreary collection of wire service write-ups, lacking both point of view and wit.
I’m told it was just a screw-up, and the local reviews will be back this week. We’ll see.
Home? What home? From a Jan. 4 Morning Sentinel story (it doesn’t seem to be on the paper’s Web site) by staff writer Doug Harlow headlined “Golden Eagle restaurant opens”:
“A new eatery in the former Mama Baldacci’s Italian restaurant on U.S. Route 201 [in Madison] promises to fill the local appetite for high-quality, home-cooked food.”
A couple of paragraphs later, readers are informed the Golden Eagle will offer “home-baked” breads and “homemade” soups.
Setting aside the tone of the article, which reads as if it had been written by the restaurant’s ad agency, I’m still left to wonder whose “home” is being used for all this cooking.
Quote? What quote? The Associated Press put out a story on Jan. 5 on story-sharing agreements among newspapers across the country, including five dailies here in Maine.
The story includes comments from Bangor Daily News executive editor Mark Woodward and Lewiston Sun Journal executive editor Rex Rhoades. But Sun Journal readers wouldn’t know about the latter. Some overeager copy editor at the Lewiston paper chopped off the bottom third of the piece, eliminating Rhoades’ quote from his own paper.
Tip? What tip? The Sun Journal is running a new feature, a daily money-saving tip to help readers weather the recession. The initial bit of advice on Jan. 4 was to only buy a soda with lunch every other day, thereby saving $62 over six months. The Jan. 5 recommendation is to measure out a cup less coffee for each pot, but double up on the filters. Savings over half a year: $25.
The tips don’t seem to be online, but editor Rhoades’ promise is.
I don’t drink soda or coffee. If there aren’t any tips coming up on ways to cut the bourbon bill, I’m going to be collecting that refund.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.