Down East 2013 ©
Goodbye, competition: It looks like the parent company of the Blethen Maine Newspapers (Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal, Morning Sentinel) will finally get its wish. No, not the wish it could sell its Maine holdings for as much as it owes on them. No fairy godmother in the world has that kind of juice.
The wish the Blethen family will likely have granted is the one where their Seattle Times flagship newspaper is freed from its joint operating agreement (JOA) with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Under this federally sanctioned deal, the Times handles all non-journalistic functions for both papers. The original idea for such JOAs was that they’d save money for both papers, thereby preserving two-newspaper cities.
The results of JOAs nationally have been mixed, at best, but the Blethens have been convinced for years that the arrangement was draining money from their paper. In 2003, they sued unsuccessfully to end the deal, claiming it was damaging the Times. And the JOA definitely hasn’t put the P-I in the black, since both papers have been bleeding red ink since 2000. So, the Blethens were probably delighted to hear last week’s news. Hearst, which owns the P-I, announced it was putting the paper on the market. If it isn’t sold in 60 days, it will be shut down or reduced to online only status. 
The consensus among experts seems to be that this is good news – but not great news – for the Blethens. 
Getting rid of the competition from the P-I won’t help much in the short term, since any advertising gains are likely to be minimal. The Times may increase its circulation by picking up ex-P-I readers, but that’s unlikely to reverse a general downward trend. But making Seattle a one-newspaper town will pay some dividends for the Blethens in the long term, leaving them in a stronger position once the current recession comes to an end.
Assuming, of course, that the Blethens survive the current recession.
For that to happen, they almost certainly have to sell their Maine papers and soon. Two sources tell me the sale to Maine Media Investments, the company headed by former U.S. Sen. William Cohen and a number of high-profile partners, is still on track and could close within a couple of weeks. One of those sources puts the odds of that happening at 3 to 1. The other is slightly more pessimistic.
Goodbye, error: Let’s see if I can straighten out last week’s mistake I didn’t make, then tried to correct, then made it more confusing by getting the correction wrong.
As I reported in the first place, Blueberry Broadcasting has switched WKCG in Augusta (101.3 FM) to the same talk-radio programming heard on Blueberry’s WVOM in Howland (103.9 FM), giving the company coverage over most of the Interstate 95 corridor north of Brunswick. 
Reports Blueberry would also convert WMCM in Rockland (103.3 FM) to talk are erroneous, according to North East Radio Watch. 
Blueberry did switch formats on WCME in Boothbay Harbor (96.7 FM), replacing the talk format that can now be heard on WKCG with the adult contemporary music formerly on 101.3.
Hello, signal: NERW is also reporting WMPG in Gorham (90.9 FM), licensed to the University of Southern Maine, has gained federal approval to upgrade its signal and will likely undergo another boost in its listenability once WCSH-TV goes digital, eliminating the chance WMPG’s stronger signal will interfere with analog Channel 6.
And WUMM is on the air. The U-Maine Machias station, previously mostly available on Webcasts, fired up its 100-watt transmitter in December and can be heard at 90.5 and 90.7 FM.
Goodbye, credibility: A Jan. 9 Portland Press Herald story by staff writer Noel K. Gallagher about Baldacci administration hiring policies at the state Department of Labor refers to state Rep. John Tuttle of Sanford as chairman of the “House Labor Committee.” 
For the record, there is no House Labor Committee. The Maine Legislature has joint committees, which include both representatives and senators. There’s a co-chair from each chamber. Tuttle is the House co-chairman. 
On Jan. 8, usually reliable Press Herald reporter Matt Wickenheiser ran a piece on legislation increasing scrutiny of fatal police shooting incidents. 
In the article, Wickenheiser referred to state Rep. Donald Pilon of Saco as a Republican. Pilon is actually a Democrat, and an appropriate correction was run shortly thereafter.
Which would have been the end of the matter, except that the Press Herald’s sister papers, the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel, got into the act with a Jan. 12 editorial in which they reinstated Pilon in the GOP. 
The online version was corrected the same day, and I assume another print correction is in the works.
Goodbye, coverage: How feeble was newspaper coverage of Gov. John Baldacci’s state budget announcement on Jan. 9. So feeble that many papers gave their readers less information than some TV stations. WCSH in Portland sent two reporters to the governor’s news conference and devoted over five minutes in both their 5 and 6 p.m. newscasts to explaining what he’d proposed. Compare that to the Lewiston Sun Journal, which didn’t even run a story from its alleged State House reporter and instead relied on the Associated Press. 
The Bangor Daily News doesn’t even allege it has a State House reporter. It, too, used AP. Only the three Blethen papers made an effort to fully cover the news conference, employing both Wickenheiser  and KJ reporter Susan Cover to good effect. 
But about all any of these news sources did was report what the governor and his staff said. There’s lots more to covering the budget, including reading the actual documents to see if what the politicians said is true. And to see if there’s important information they didn’t bother to mention.
Nobody has done that.
The KJ did do some follow-up with the state employees union  and hospital administrators on how the spending cuts will affect them, but that’s been it, to date, as far as going beyond the material the media was hand fed. 
There’s important news here that’s being missed. Bet on it.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.