Down East 2013 ©
Trend reversal: Keep that life-support system hooked up. Cancel the funeral arrangements. The deceased just showed signs of coming out of its coma.
New figures filed with the U.S. Postal Service have the Maine Sunday Telegram and the Lewiston Sun Journal’s daily and Sunday editions reporting circulation increases for the first time in years.
The Telegram, owned by MaineToday Media, printed its required statement of ownership and circulation on Oct. 2. It shows the average number of copies sold each week for the year ending Sept. 30 to be 77,537. That’s up just over four percent from the 74,346 reported in 2010, although it’s still far below the 92,070 the weekly averaged in 2009.
Much of this past year’s uptick may be due to deep discounts offered for home delivery (subscribers to any of MaineToday’s other papers could receive a year’s worth of the Sunday paper for as little as one dollar), but it’s still the first time in a decade or more that the Telegram has shown any sign of growth. It also provides some validation for claims by publisher Richard Connor that his company has reversed what appeared to be a circulation death spiral.
The good news wasn’t limited to the Telegram. The Lewiston Sun Journal’s Sunday edition saw its average weekly sales tick up in the past year about 4.6 percent to 30,496. That’s actually slightly more copies than the paper sold in 2009. The Sun Journal’s daily paper hit 31,162, again not only better than 2010, but 2009, as well.
The Bangor Daily News reported average daily paid circulation of 48,726 copies. Comparisons with the previous two years were unavailable.
The Postal Service numbers are subject to a number of variables that aren’t allowed in the more rigid Audit Bureau of Circulations figures that will be released next month. Those numbers will provide better evidence as to whether the long industry-wide decline in circulation is finally reversing itself or these figures are merely a fluke.
Web hits and misses: The MaineToday papers also made an effort this past weekend to validate Connor’s claim that his company is the state’s dominant online news source. Recent figures from Compare.com  have shown the Bangor Daily News surpassing MTM’s Portland Press Herald in unique monthly visitors.
On Oct. 2, Connor’s Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel carried an article (attributed to the Maine Sunday Telegram, although the story didn’t appear in the Telegram’s print edition) that used figures from comScore.com showing MaineToday’s website with a significant lead in both unique visitors and pages viewed.
Strangely, the piece doesn’t appear on MTM’s site, but it is available elsewhere online .
Compare.com and comScore.com use different methodologies to develop their numbers, so it’s difficult to assess the accuracy of the statistics churned out by either. If the piece in the papers were a real news story, it might have included some background to aid readers in making that assessment. Also, without more information about the numbers produced for MTM, it’s impossible to say whether the comparisons it makes are valid. For instance, the MaineToday figure is said to include hits on all the company’s websites, but it’s not clear if the same is true for the Bangor Daily’s multiple sites or those of WCSH-TV, another top rival. It’s almost certainly not the case for the Sun Journal’s site and those of its weekly papers. Ignoring these factors calls into question the objectivity of this article and raises the question of whether MaineToday is using its news pages to run what amounts to a thinly disguised sales pitch for its websites.
Without more transparency, the MaineToday story comes off less as journalism and more as self-serving hype.
Curious coverage: First Lady Michelle Obama was in Maine on Sept. 30 for a couple of fundraisers, one at a private home in Cape Elizabeth, the other at the Ocean Gateway terminal on Portland’s waterfront. Reports on the first event were nonexistent, except for a Portland Press Herald piece the day before  that noted that the exclusive gathering was being held at the home of Bonnie Porta, wife of Robert C.S. Monks, a part-owner of the Press Herald. Even though reporters weren’t allowed inside, the transcript  of Mrs. Obama’s remarks was available online shortly after she spoke, but apparently nobody in the news media went to the trouble of reading it.
As for the Portland gathering, WCSH-TV got in a snit about its cameras not being allowed inside and made that the focus of its coverage .
The Bangor Daily News’ Seth Koenig wrote a piece  that made it appear as if he hadn’t been allowed in, either. Koenig never quoted Mrs. Obama, but related what other people thought she had said.
The Press Herald’s Tom Bell  avoided any mention of the Monks connection, but at least he got into the Ocean Gateway event and quoted the first lady.
On the whole, a weak effort by the Maine press corps. Good thing nothing important happened. Or maybe it did, and they all missed it.
Al Diamon can be emailed at email@example.com .