Down East 2013 ©
Fewer flacks: Since the early 1990s, the number of official spokespeople at the State House has increased sharply. The speaker of the House, the president of the Senate, the attorney general, the secretary of state, majority offices, minority offices, even the Public Utilities Commission – they’ve all added press aides in recent years. During that same period, nearly every agency in state government has likewise hired somebody to handle media inquiries and churn out press releases. And the governor’s press office grew from two to three staffers.
But over the last several years, the State House press corps has shrunk from more than a dozen beat reporters to – on a good day – four or five. Fewer reporters asking questions meant less need to spin, equivocate, deflect and defer. But having a PR person had become something of a status symbol for politicians and bureaucrats, so those jobs continued to exist and even increase in numbers.
The arrival of the recession and a pending budget shortfall north of $850 million changed all that. The trend toward everyone having their own personal PR person seems to have reversed itself. The secretary of state has dumped his spokesman in order to save money. Likewise, the Senate president and the Senate Majority Office will each forego their own singular voices and share a flack. David Farmer, the governor’s press secretary, has been promoted to deputy chief of staff, where he’ll continue to speak for the Baldacci administration. His old spot in the press office won’t be filled. According to informed sources, more such cuts are on the way.
Soon, there’ll be nobody left to avoid answering all those questions that aren’t getting asked.
Fewer days: Uh oh. Everything looks swell regarding the sale of the Blethen Maine Newspapers to Maine Media Investments, according to a story in the Dec. 11 Portland Press Herald. That always makes me nervous.
“We’re still confident we can get the deal done by year’s end,” Richard Connor, MMI’s senior operating partner told the paper, later adding, “Banks in Maine have money to lend. They have the full capacity to do what we need to get done.”
In addition to holding discussions with three banks in the state, Connor and partner William Cohen, the former U.S. senator and defense secretary, were in Washington D.C. earlier this week talking to money people. Connor is also continuing to negotiate contract changes with the Newspaper Guild, the largest union at Blethen. So far, the sides have agreed to a pay freeze and a longer work week, but other issues apparently remain to be resolved before Guild members vote on the deal.
Blethen has said it wants to complete the sale of the Press Herald, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel before the end of the year. If that doesn’t happen, Press Herald publisher Charles Cochrane said, “The parties would have to have some discussion about where to go from there.”
According to an informed source, Blethen has a good reason for the year-end deadline. Its parent company in Seattle recently sold some real estate, on which it realized a significant profit. But that profit is subject to capital gains tax. If Blethen can complete the sale of its Maine papers in this calendar year, it can use the loss from that transaction (Blethen paid an estimated $230 million for the papers a decade ago, but is likely selling them for a fraction of that) to offset those capital gains. If the deal doesn’t get done by Dec. 31, it won’t be beneficial to Blethen from a tax standpoint and would probably have to be renegotiated.
The source said MMI was confident it could arrange the needed financing, but not as certain it could do so by the end of the year, because of the time it takes banks to process such transactions.
More digital: TV stations have until Feb. 17 to convert to digital signals, but the Maine Public Broadcasting Network isn’t waiting. It’s dumping its analog signal on Jan. 11. After that, anyone without cable, satellite or a digital TV will need a converter box to watch public television.
An MPBN official told the Press Herald the change was being made early because the network wanted to avoid having the inevitable viewer confusion occur in mid-February, when it’s broadcasting state high school basketball tournaments, some of its highest rated shows each year. 
More fractured English: From the Dec. 10 edition of the Original Irregular, a weekly newspaper published in Kingfield:
“Members of the Zoning Update Advisory Committee have been meeting overt the past year and are nearing completion of an updated zoning ordinance. After the Comprehensive Plan was approved by the voters, committee chairman David Guernsey and a group of volunteers went to work to update the ordinance and make it contestant with the approved Comprehensive Plan as required.”
“Consistent with past major off-season improvements since the Berry family acquired Saddleback in 2003, enhancements will greet skiers and riders in a well improved resort community. Saddleback opens its season this Saturday, Dec. 13 for an exciting season featuring resort improvements for all levels. This year’s emphasis is easy access for top-to-bottom skiing and riding for all levels from the extravagant views of the 4,000 foot summit. Additionally touted by Saddleback staff is adding to the most advanced skiing and riding in the entire east.”
You have to be wary of that additional touting stuff.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.