Maine News Simply Is Simple, But Is It Good?
Aggravated by aggregators: The idea behind Maine News Simply is, as the name implies, not terribly complicated:
Set up a Web site with lots of links to stories at newspapers, magazines, TV stations, and other news sources. Market the site to potential readers as a single comprehensive and programmable resource that will save them the bother of searching around for stories that interest them. Sell advertising to local companies at less than the news sites charge, a pricing system made possible because Maine News Simply isn’t running up the bills paying reporters, editors, and photographers.
It’s an interesting business plan. It’s just not journalism. And it may not be good for those who practice that profession.
There are those who think aggregators, such as MNS, aid more traditional news operations by directing additional traffic to their Web sites. While this is undoubtedly true in some instances, there's also a downside to the practice. That's because there are only so many advertising dollars to go around, and aggregators siphon off some of those bucks that might otherwise go to pay for actual newsgathering. People who visit aggregating sites in search of news may actually be contributing to the decline of that product. (It should be noted that Down East's Web site contains a section called The Maine Minute that engages in this very practice, though with a short summary written by the editors.)
MNS is the brainchild of Stefan Williman and Christina St. Cyr – both former employees of MaineToday Media, the state’s largest newspaper chain. Before going to work for MTM in 2009, Williman was a vice president of sales and marketing at CBS Radio, while St. Cyr had spent more than a decade in online sales at the Blethen Maine Newspapers. Together, they’ve developed the concept of News Simply sites they hope to franchise nationwide in the next several years.
“What’s unique in our approach is how we brand it,” he said. “We’re really driven by what readers and users of the site deem important.”
Former MaineToday online editor Carl Natale is selecting content for MNS. The Portland-based company also has a designer on staff. Williman predicted he’ll hire about three more employees this year. By the middle of 2011, he’s expecting a million page hits a day for his Maine site and to have launched a second News Simply operation in New Hampshire. Service to mobile phones is due to start June 1.
“We hope to be profitable after the first six months,” Williman said.
While he said MNS might eventually expand to include original content – restaurant reviews, entertainment listings, and blogs are the most likely – he stressed that the company’s business plan calls for keeping overhead to a minimum.
As for the charge that MNS and other aggregators are essentially parasites preying on conventional news outlets, Williman wasn’t buying it.
“Our news is a response to a paradigm shift in how we’re meeting market demand,” he said. “Different business models just represent opportunity.”
The only problem is that if News Simply is as successful as its owners expect, it may kill off many of the news sources it depends on for its content.
It’ll be interesting to see what the marketing plan is then.
Scooped and scooped again: The Portland Press Herald finally covered the immigration march and rally that took place on May 1 a couple of blocks from its Portland offices. The article by staff writer Dennis Hoey (who appears to have cleverly written around his not having been at the event) showed up on May 4, three days after the speeches were over, three days after local TV had reported on it, and a day after being beaten by the Bangor Daily News.
It would be one thing if this kind of sloppiness were an exception, but at the Press Herald, it’s becoming the rule.
Another example: On May 7, the paper ran a story by staff writer Melanie Creamer about a judge’s refusal to grant a protection-from-abuse order to the mayor of Westbrook against a former city employee.
The judge made that decision on April 27. A couple of days later, the weekly American Journal noticed and posted a piece by reporter Leslie Bridgers on its Web site.
Even then, the Press Herald didn’t react. It wasn’t until more than a week later – after the AJ had put the information in print – that the daily paper tried to catch up.
That’s not news. That’s history.
Incidentally, the Press Herald won’t have to worry about being beaten by Bridgers any longer. She’s been hired as a reporter at its sister paper, the Morning Sentinel in Waterville.
(Disclosure: My weekly political column runs in some papers owned by the same company as the American Journal.)
Joe the candidate: Portland’s “The Big Jab” (WRED, 1440 AM and WJJB, 96.3 FM) will soon lose one of its morning personalities. Joe Palmieri, co-host of the “Morning Jab” show with Dave Schumacher and a diehard Philadelphia Phillies fan, is the Republican candidate for the state Senate seat in Boston Red Sox-loving District 7 (South Portland, Cape Elizabeth and part of Scarborough).
Palmieri is unopposed in the primary election, so he hasn’t had to give up his radio gig yet, but that will change after the June 8 vote. Because of federal “Equal Time” rules, Palmieri will be forced off the air until his race against incumbent Democrat Larry Bliss is settled in November.
Palmieri won’t starve while he’s away from the microphone. He also owns the Chicago Dogs restaurant in Scarborough.
Tax troubles: MaineToday Media, owners of The Portland Press Herald and two other Maine dailies, is asking the city of South Portland for a tax cut on its printing and distribution facility, according to the weekly Forecaster.
MTM is SoPo’s seventh largest property taxpayer, but it might slip down the list by several slots if its appeal is successful. The company wants the value of its holdings reduced by $33 million, from the city’s estimate of $43.5 million to just $10.5 million.
Most of the reduction – about $24 million – would come on equipment at the facility.
MTM might be able to make a stronger case for the tax cut if it revealed what it paid for the facility when it bought the newspaper company last year from the Blethen family. But to date, MaineToday has refused to share that figure with the city, since doing so would make the number public.
If MTM is successful in its appeal, its tax bill would drop from the $640,000 it paid in 2009 to about $155,000.
But can he afford the taxes? The Press Herald hasn’t had a bureau in the state’s mid-coast for a couple of years, but that doesn’t mean its parent company doesn’t have a presence there. According to the Herald Gazette’s Web site, MaineToday Media CEO Richard Connor and his wife Deborah recently purchased property in Camden.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com