Irving Looks at Blethen
On Sept. 3 and 4, representatives of Brunswick News Inc. toured the Portland Press Herald’s facilities, prompting speculation that the Canadian company is interested in buying the Blethen Maine Newspapers. Blethen is trying to sell its Maine holdings, which include dailies in Portland, Augusta and Waterville, as well as other media properties.
Brunswick News owns three dailies and 14 weeklies in New Brunswick, a majority of the English-language media in that province. It also owns 7 French-language weeklies.
Brunswick News is owned by J.K. Irving, one of three brothers who control the Irving group of companies, a privately held conglomerate that, according to the Canadian Press, operates 300 businesses, ranging from oil refineries and shipbuilding to food processing, transportation and forestry. In Maine, Irving owns or manages about 1.5 million acres of forest land and employs 550 people at a saw mill and other operations in Dixfield. The company recently leased its convenience stores in the state to a Canadian firm, Alimentation Couche-Tard.
While much of the Irving empire is separate from J.K. Irving’s media holdings, that hasn’t prevented claims of bias in the newspapers’ coverage of disputes involving Irving and its labor unions, environmental policies and confrontations with competitors.
During 2006 hearings before a committee appointed by the Canadian Senate, the media company was described by witnesses as “ruthless” and its management as “hard-nosed, anti-union.”
The committee concluded, “The Irvings’ corporate interests form an industrial-media complex that dominates [New Brunswick].”
The Irving companies have been involved in their share of controversies in Maine, including a bitter labor dispute with loggers in 2003, a protracted court battle over back taxes in 2005 and continuing questions about forest practices.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com.