The Price Blethen is Still Paying
Unretired debt: The Blethens may be gone from Maine, but the effects from their ailing finances could linger on here for decades. Reporter Bill Richards has a piece on the Crosscut.com Web site in which he notes that last month, when the Seattle-based family sold the Blethen Maine Newspapers to MaineToday Media, headed by Pennsylvania newspaper publisher Richard Connor, the Blethens agreed to assume all liabilities in the company pension system. Richards writes that Connor “made the … retention of the Blethen Maine pension obligation a deal-breaking requirement.”
No wonder. Richards says the pension shortfall currently amounts to about $40 million, although it’s not clear how much of that relates to the Maine papers’ employees. Under federal law, the deficit must be paid back by 2011. If that doesn’t happen, it could affect the retirement accounts of ex-Blethen employees in Maine.
Richards also cites sources close to the negotiations who told him MTM paid between $30 million and $40 million for Blethen’s three Maine dailies, Web sites and weekly papers. If that range is accurate (and all indications are that it is), it’s approximately $200 million less than the $233 million the Blethens paid for the papers in 1998. Richards says the Seattle company still has about $90 million in debt remaining from that transaction.
Picture imperfect: Now it’s the Morning Sentinel’s turn to waste almost a full page on photos of new owner Richard Connor and assorted employees shaking hands with Waterville advertisers and local officials. The July 2 Sentinel offered readers this worthless content (it wasn’t posted online – fortunately), but couldn’t find space for political reporter Susan Cover’s article on the gubernatorial race or several other pieces of local news that ran the same day in its sister paper, the Kennebec Journal.
This fawning feature for advertisers has already infected Connor’s Portland Press Herald, and he’s said a page of photos will be a regular feature in all three papers. He’s also promised an increase in local news coverage, although to date, that hasn’t happened.
Unless the photos are it.
Legal limbo: The Associated Press and several Maine broadcast outlets have been sloppy in referring to Democratic gubernatorial candidate and state Rep. Dawn Hill as a lawyer. In fact, Hill’s license to practice law in Maine has been suspended, apparently because she didn’t keep up with continuing legal education requirements (which is strange, because legislators are exempt from those rules).
Hill’s campaign has made it clear in its press releases that the candidate no longer works as an attorney, but the AP and its TV and radio clients don’t seem to be paying much attention.
Last entry: The Westbrook Diarist has shut down. The hyper-local blog on all things Westbrook lasted about 18 months, but was eating up too much of founder John C.L. Morgan’s time, according to an interview he gave to the American Journal.
Like most blogs, Morgan’s was uneven, but at its best (which occurred surprisingly often), it was informative and insightful, an excellent example of what citizen journalism can achieve. It’ll be missed.
Dam mistake: Speaking of Westbrook, it must have been a long time since a Maine Public Radio reporter ventured there. For much of June 29 and 30, the network kept telling its listeners the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife was making “S.D. Warren” in Westbrook build a fish passage on one of its dams on the Presumpscot River. S.D. Warren hasn’t owned a dam in Westbrook for the better part of a decade, since it sold its mill and associated properties to Sappi Fine Paper North America. According to other news accounts, it was Sappi that was ordered to improve river access for the fish.
Another Down Easter goes down: Lorie Costigan, the editor of this Web site, was laid off by Down East Enterprise Inc. earlier this week in a move management blamed on sluggish advertising revenue. Editorial responsibility for Web content will fall, at least temporarily, to Down East editor-in-chief Paul Doiron. An administrative assistant’s position in the company’s book-publishing division was also eliminated.
Down East also laid off seven people in March in a cost-cutting move.