Blethen Sale May Be Close
It looks like a done deal: According to two informed sources in the newspaper industry, Maine Media Investments – the company formed by former U.S. Sen. William Cohen, developer Robert Baldacci (brother of Gov. John Baldacci), developer and film producer Michael Liberty, and Pennsylvania newspaper publisher/editor Richard Connor – is on the verge of buying the Blethen Maine Newspapers. One source said the sale could be completed by the end of the month. The other said it might take a little longer, but should happen well before the end of the year.
If the reports are correct, MMI would gain control of the Portland Press Herald, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, the Morning Sentinel in Waterville, the MaineToday.com Web site and considerable real estate. According to one of the sources, much of that real estate would be sold off quickly by the new owners, including the Press Herald’s building on Congress Street in Portland. The paper’s news and advertising operations would be consolidated at its South Portland printing plant.
Dennis Bailey, spokesman for MMI, did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment.
Tom Bell, president of the Newspaper Guild, the largest union at Blethen, refused to comment on a possible purchase of the company, but did confirm in an e-mail that the Guild was negotiating with MMI on changes in its contract that might reduce costs for the new owners. “We're still talking with them and things are proceeding well,” Bell said.
“There is no agreement yet.”
MMI announced its interest in buying the Blethen papers in July, saying it had an exclusive agreement to discuss a sale. In late August, both parties ended that exclusive arrangement, saying they could not work out all the details in the limited time – 60 to 90 days – it afforded.
There was considerable speculation at that time that MMI’s interest in the papers was fading, due to the large debt load they carried, although Bailey insisted Cohen and company still wanted to make the deal work.
In September, representatives of the Irving companies toured the Portland facilities, prompting speculation the privately held Canadian conglomerate might be interested in purchasing the Maine papers.
According to published reports, Seattle-based Blethen bought the former Guy Gannett papers in 1998 for about $230 million.
Much of that money was borrowed, and Blethen still owes more than $100 million. Estimates of the company’s value today have ranged from $75 million to as little as $25 million. MMI had previously said it might be willing to assume some of Blethen’s debt as part of a purchase deal.
She doesn’t look like a journalist: During the visit to Maine last weekend by Todd Palin, husband of the Republican vice-presidential candidate, reporters weren’t allowed to ask questions.
With one exception.
Cindy Michaels, anchor/reporter at WVII-TV in Bangor, was given brief access to the “First Dude,” apparently because Michaels looks something like Sarah Palin.
How did Michaels take advantage of this opportunity? Did she get Palin to comment on the “Trooper-gate” investigation in Alaska? Did she ask him about his membership in a secessionist group? Teen pregnancy? World peace?
Michaels asked Palin for an autograph.
Then she followed up. Here’s the dialogue, courtesy of the microphone of Mal Leary of Capitol News Service:
Michaels: “Did you read the story? I was getting hate mail for looking like your wife.”
Palin: “Really? Oh, you’re kidding me.”
Palin: “She loves this kind of stuff.”
Michaels: “You’ve got to tell her that I would love to meet her. And, oh, she’s great, she’s great.”