Down East 2013 ©
Clearing the waters: The Portland Press Herald has finally tried to explain the two contradictory stories about Bath Iron Works it ran side-by-side in its July 24 edition.
In one article, the Press Herald gave voice to the views of Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins that the Navy’s decision to cancel future contracts for new Zumwalt-class destroyers would lead to layoffs at the shipyard, which is one of Maine’s largest private employers. In the other story, the newspaper trumpeted the position of Democratic U.S. Rep. Tom Allen, who’s running against Collins, that reverting to building the older Arleigh Burke destroyers would provide sufficient work for BIW to maintain current employment levels.
According to an article the paper got around to publishing on July 26, this confusion stems more from a Washington political dispute than a disagreement over staffing levels at a major Maine industry. 
Collins is a proponent of the Zumwalts and is doing all she can to convince naval brass to reconsider. Allen thinks the new ships are too expensive and is convinced the Burkes will meet the nation’s needs militarily and the state’s needs employment-wise.
Staff writer Matt Wickenheiser’s (author of one of the earlier confusing pieces) latest story explains all that, but doesn’t come close to helping readers decide who’s correct.
More digging needed. A lot more.
Clouding the ownership: I can only assume there’s some internal political reason why the Press Herald continues to run wire-service stories about the McClatchey Co. without identifying it as one of the newspaper’s owners. The latest instance of this ethical oversight occurred on July 25, when the Portland paper offered readers an Associated Press report on McClatchy’s declining profits, without mentioning the Press Herald’s contribution to that dismal economic picture. McClatchy owns 49.5 percent of the paper, but has no management authority.
That power rests with the Blethen family of Seattle, who are trying to sell the Press Herald and their other Maine holdings. Until they do, a little transparency would be welcome.
Obscuring the information: The Kennebec Journal in Augusta and the Morning Sentinel in Waterville, Blethen’s other Maine dailies, finally got around to reporting on their own economic problems on July 26. But only for readers of the dead-tree editions. An article announcing the papers would soon eliminate “an unspecified number of positions through employee buyouts and layoffs” because of drops in classified advertising revenue and rising costs for newsprint and energy made it into print, but was never posted on either paper’s Web site.
Allow me to correct that oversight on their part. The story quotes KJ and Sentinel publisher John Christie as saying the publications are running $200,000 behind projections in 2008. Staff reductions will be larger this time around than the last round of layoffs in April, when nine positions were eliminated. Christie also said the company is reducing the number of workers in its commercial printing division, because it would no longer be printing other newspapers. Two weekly newspaper chains that had been printed by the Sentinel/KJ recently shifted to other plants.
Clearing out: With layoffs and buyouts looming in mid-August at the Press Herald, the company’s largest union – Local 128 of the Newspaper Guild – is attempting to mitigate the damage. According to an e-mail from union administrative officer C.J. Betit, “Guild members in Portland are going through a voluntary process to take unpaid leave in order to mitigate some of the upcoming layoffs and attempt to keep staffing levels up until the sale process completes. This is a Guild initiative.”
Clearing up: If the Blethen papers aren’t particularly forthcoming about their financial situation (or much of anything else), the opposite seems to be true at the Ellsworth American. A July 24 story on the health of weekly newspapers  contained some surprising news about how the American is weathering the economic upheaval in the industry.
According to the article, “Circulation figures for The Ellsworth American in 2007 were down 5.7 percent, compared to 2002, but total revenue over the same time increased by 30 percent.”
The story doesn’t explain this seeming contradiction, but if this trend can be extrapolated, by the time the number of readers reaches zero, advertising income will rival the wealth of an oil-rich Middle East emirate.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.