Is Press Herald's Connor a Player in Paper Auction?
Is Rich rich enough? Late last week, the rumor surfaced online that Richard Connor – CEO of MaineToday Media, owner of the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel dailies – is involved with one of the groups trying to buy the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News.
The two papers are being sold at auction on Sept. 23, with qualified bidders required to post a $7.5 million deposit. The minimum price for the bankrupt dailies is $50 million, which doesn’t include the real estate.
Connor already owns a Pennsylvania paper, the Times Leader in Wilkes-Barre, but that’s small potatoes compared to the Philadelphia operation. Several knowledgeable sources said they doubted Connor could line up the financial backing necessary to compete for the big-city dailies. There’s also the issue of labor problems at the papers, with a federal bankruptcy judge ruling last week that the winning bidder wouldn’t be able to back out of the deal if the new owner proved unable to reach agreements with the company’s sixteen unions.
A failure to settle contract issues scuttled a previous attempt to sell the papers, and the no-pullout requirement has already scared off several previous bidders.
It’s difficult to believe Connor would want to get involved in that mess.
Reverse migration: For decades, the goal of journalists in Maine was to land a gig at the Portland Press Herald. Being a reporter or editor at the state’s largest daily in the state’s most populous city carried a level of respect no other similar job commanded. The Press Herald set the news agenda for the state, with everybody else playing catch-up.
That’s no longer the case.
Since Connor and company moved in last year, the paper’s reputation has suffered. It now runs fewer enterprise stories and gets scooped more often by weeklies, blogs, and even TV. It seems to be at a loss as to how to use its best reporters, such as Ed Murphy, John Richardson, and Tom Bell, often assigning them to inconsequential pieces (a lost cat?), while important matters go uncovered.
In light of that, it shouldn’t come as any great surprise that some first-rate reporters might be reconsidering where they want to work in Maine.
Matt Wickenheiser, another of the shrinking number of solid journalists at the Press Herald, gave his notice on Sept. 20. Wickenheiser, who’s been at the Portland paper since 2002, will be moving to the Bangor Daily News on October 4, where he’ll handle a new statewide business beat.
“I grew up with the BDN up in Madawaska,” Wickenheiser said in an e-mail, “and worked there while at UMaine as both a [part-time] copy editor and overnight front desk receptionist on Friday and Saturday nights. I don't have this in writing, but my understanding is I won't have to pick up the overnight desk shifts this time around.”
So eager was his new employer to land Wickenheiser that it is allowing him to work from his Portland home, rather than relocating closer to Bangor.
Wickenheiser worked his way up to the Press Herald by putting in his time at smaller out-of-state papers, but doesn’t see the move from Portland to Bangor as a step down. “I think the change will be good for me professionally and personally,” he said.
Rumor has it he’s not the only Portland staffer contemplating a move north before winter.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org