Down East 2013 ©
MaineToday Media CEO Richard Connor announced on Oct. 28 that he was resigning effective Dec. 31. In a statement quoted in the Oct. 29 Portland Press Herald , Connor said he would remain an investor in the company – which owns the Press Herald, the Kennebec Journal and the Morning Sentinel – but was leaving because of the heavy workload and because MaineToday needed new leadership to “leverage the new foundation into the next phase.”
Later that same day, Connor also announced  he was resigning as CEO of Impressions Media, the company that owns the Times Leader newspaper in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and several other media properties. He issued a nearly identical statement on his reasons for that move.
There appears to be more to Connor’s twin departures than is contained in his official comments.
According to informed sources, Connor’s investors and partners have been questioning him about expenses he’s charged to the company and the way those costs have been allocated between MaineToday and Impressions Media. (The two companies are separate entities, but share some board members.)
The board is also said to be upset about Connor’s recent trip to Italy. According to one person inside the company and one knowledgeable outsider, Connor took some employees from both companies and several major advertisers on the excursion to Europe, which was part of a marketing promotion rewarding major advertisers. (Contrary to my previously published version of this story, MTM senior vice president for advertising Michele Lester was not on that trip, nor has Lester left the company.)
Even though both the Maine and Pennsylvania papers were involved in the Italian trip, Connor charged most of the expenses to MTM. When board members in Maine learned of this, they began investigating the allocation of other expenses, discovering that the trip to Italy did not appear to be the first instance in which expenses were improperly placed on MaineToday’s books.
Board members had other concerns about Connor’s management. The Bangor Daily News reported that there was disagreement  between Connor and his partners over the company’s overall direction, in particular his decision to start a separate new-media marketing agency called MaineToday Digital. The future of that enterprise appears to be uncertain in the wake of Connor’s decision to quit.
Another source said board members were also angry at top management because, during the recent wave of layoffs and buyouts at MaineToday, remaining employees were inadequately trained to perform tasks of departed workers, creating considerable confusion.
Connor ally and company president Dale Duncan  also resigned, effective Oct. 28. The Press Herald quoted him as saying he left because, the “owners want new leadership.”
The Portland Newspaper Guild, the largest union at MaineToday, issued a letter  to members praising Connor. It said, “he helped us build a stronger connection with the community, and he improved the quality of the newspapers, steps that were needed to stabilize circulation.” The guild letter, signed by president Tom Bell, went on to say, “we now need a digital-savvy leader who can take us to the next level.”
The union also said contract negotiations were “going well and will be completed soon.” The letter said Connor’s resignation would not interfere with that process.
(This story has been corrected to show that Michelle Lester is still with MaineToday Media and did not take part in the trip to Italy. It also clarifies the reason for that trip was to reward certain advertisers.)
Al Diamon can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org .