Pretending Everything’s OK at Maine Newspapers
Self-delusion: The May 26 Bangor Daily News carried an op-ed headlined “Maine newspapers remains strong” that was jointly authored by public relations executive Michael Cuzzi and Lewiston Sun Journal director of new media Tony Ronzio.
It contains this remarkable paragraph:
“Maine’s papers are making money, hiring newsroom and other staff, either holding or growing circulation, and reaching more people than ever before with their print and online offerings.”
Some of that is sort of true – if by “Maine papers” they’re including weeklies. The state still has a lot of healthy weeklies. Dailies not so much.
Every daily paper that submitted figures to the Audit Bureau of Circulations this spring showed significant declines in sales of printed copies, a trend that dates back more than five years.
There’s ample reason to believe the papers that didn’t use ABC, including Ronzio’s Sun Journal, had similar results. An article in the May 28 issue of Mainebiz lists the Lewiston papers approximate circulation at 25,000 copies. That’s down twenty-six percent since the last publicly released audit data in 2007, making the Sun Journal’s decline consistent with the numbers from the state’s other dailies.
As for “making money,” that may be correct if one disregards the MaineToday Media papers, which were poised to declare bankruptcy in March. Only the sudden intervention of hedge-fund manager Donald Sussman prevented that, and there’s little indication the new management has halted the flow of red ink as yet.
Hiring? MaineToday is and the Bangor Daily News recently beefed up its reporting corps. The revived Village Soup papers have announced they’re adding staff writers, but with two fewer publications, that’s still a net loss of personnel. The Current Publishing weeklies in York County also added a couple of reporters. The rest of the print media appears to be holding the line.
It’s probably accurate to say the state’s papers are “reaching more people than ever before,” but the huge growth in online readership isn’t reflected in the bottom line. No Maine publication is earning a significant share of its revenues from the Web. I’m not aware of a single one that’s even covering the lost income from print with online advertising.
Contrary to the op-ed’s claim, newspapers in this state haven’t bucked the national trend that has seen a lot of publications cease to exist. The Bar Harbor Times, the Capital Weekly, the Citizen Journal, the SV Weekly, the Highlands Journal and the Moosehead Messenger all went under in the past few months. It’s not out of the question that the list will grow longer before this year is out.
Pretending everything is fine does nothing to fix the problems facing the newspaper industry. And it reduces the credibility of those who make these kinds of unsubstantiated claims.
Passing the test: The new “Truth Test” feature in the Portland Press Herald is a welcome addition to its political coverage. The first edition on May 28 carefully dissected a TV ad by Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bruce Poliquin and determined that the claims therein were mostly accurate. That’s useful journalism that helps readers cast informed ballots.
Two gripes: There’s no byline on the piece, and there should be. When the paper concludes, “We rate this ad mostly true,” I want to know who “We” is.
My other problem is timeliness. Is this feature going to run each time a major candidate launches a new commercial? That would be ideal. But if this is to be a weekly feature, it will soon be operating too far behind the events it’s covering to have any real impact.
D.C. revival: The MaineToday Media papers are apparently set to re-open their Washington bureau, which shut down in April after the abrupt departure of reporter Jonathan Riskind. According to information from several well-placed sources, the new management at MaineToday will break with the previous owner’s practice of filling the post with people like Riskind who had little or no knowledge of Maine and is hiring an experienced reporter with strong ties to this state.
Al Diamon can be emailed at email@example.com.