Crunch Time for Blethen Deal
Deadline looms: According to a Nov. 29 posting by Thomas Cushing Munjoy, the mysterious masked marauder of the Maine media, the Seattle Times Co. has until Dec. 27 to complete a deal to sell the Blethen Maine Newspapers to Maine Media Investments.
Munjoy, citing sources described as “[i]nsiders on both sides of the transaction,” says that if MMI – composed of ex-U.S. Sen. William Cohen, developers Robert Baldacci and Michael Liberty, and Pennsylvania newspaper publisher Richard Connor – can’t get firm financing by that date, “the deal will crater.”
Although the blogger doesn’t go into specifics, he implies that the Blethen family, majority owners of the Seattle Times, have loans coming due that they won’t be able to pay unless they sell the Portland Press Herald, Maine Sunday Telegram, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel before the start of the new year.
In addition, Munjoy reports that Cohen, a former U.S. secretary of defense, has stepped up his involvement in the negotiations with MMI’s potential financial backers.
Also worth reading is Munjoy’s Nov. 26 posting on how Connor handled allegations of plagiarism of obituaries by the Wilkes-Barre Times Leader, which he edits, and his seemingly exaggerated statements about how much of a turnaround he achieved at the Fort Worth Business Press.
Media muffs: It’s not unusual for political partisans to produce screeds attacking the news media for being biased. In most cases, these allegations don’t amount to much more than frothing-at-the-mouth protests over straightforward reporting that happens to reflect badly on a candidate or cause close to the partisan’s heart. In some instances, the complaints are valid, although more often than not, it’s due more to incompetence on the reporters’ and/or editors’ parts than any attempts at spin. Deliberately slanted stories are uncommon – although not unheard of – in the Maine media.
“Dan,” the blog’s author, has e-mailed me in the past with claims of skewed reporting. I couldn’t find much evidence for his charges that the media were conspiring to go easy on Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins at the expense of her Democratic challenger, U.S. Rep. Tom Allen. It just looked to me like the usual sloppy work by media people who neither knew nor cared much about politics.
But I might have been a little hasty in dismissing “Dan’s” complaints. He does score some points concerning inept and indifferent campaign coverage, and how those shortcomings can affect the outcome of an election, regardless of whether the bias is deliberate.
His detailed report on his efforts to convince journalists to cover a story that reflected poorly on Collins illustrates how lazy, arrogant and uninterested the mainstream media can be, and ought to give journalists a solid clue as to why partisans of both the left and right are increasingly turning to other outlets for their political coverage.
Current cuts: Current Publishing, which puts out six weekly papers in southern Maine (including three that carry my political column) has undergone a “restructuring,” according to publisher Lee Hews. Six positions – including that of the editor of the Lakes Region Weekly, the editor of the company’s York County papers and an assistant editor at the Sun Chronicle in Saco – were eliminated. Two design jobs and a sports reporter also got the ax.
In an e-mail, Hews said the changes mean editing for all six papers will now be handled by two people. No beat reporters were eliminated, and the size of the news hole remains the same.
“[F]or us, revenue is ahead of last year - but expenses are way up (printing is up 16%, health benefits are up 13%, transportation and postal rates are up significantly as compared to last year) and we feel that the tighter we can run the company, the better off we will be when the economy does turn around,” she wrote. “Competition is tough and we have the Press Herald in our backyard selling ads at significantly reduced rates – we want to be ready for the harshness of January and February and continue to stay strong.”
Cuts of beef: Sometimes good reporting shows up in unexpected places. Food critic Nancy English has a first-rate piece exposing the real story behind Wolfe’s Neck Farm in Freeport on her Web site, Chow Maine.
Wolfe’s Neck has long been associated with locally grown organic food, but meat sold under the Wolfe’s Neck name is often neither local nor organic, according to English. The same beef is on sale in Hannaford and Whole Foods supermarkets (although under different brand names) and is raised at farms all over the northeastern U.S. and as far away as Illinois.
In addition to her Web site, English, writing as the more androgynous N.L. English, is the food critic for the Maine Sunday Telegram.
Irregularitis: From the Nov. 26 issue of the Original Irregular, a weekly newspaper published in Kingfield:
“There paced the rigorous walk of a woman who gleamed with a friendly face, wore a colorful yellow hard hat and a yellow sweatshirt. As she strutted down North Maine Street in Kingfield the words on her shirt revealed her purpose: ‘Annual Maine Credit Unions’ Ending Hunger Walking Tour,’ it read as trucks roared past her last week.”
There writes a whole lot of words gleaming with the reflected glow of grammar books they have caused to burst into flames.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.