New Maine Times Faces Major Obstacles
Grants’ tomb: The Web site New Maine Times doesn’t exactly plan to take up where the old Maine Times left off, which is good, because that alternative weekly newspaper ended its run in 2002 in financial disaster. But NMT, which will begin posting stories and features on April 15, still faces some serious questions about its business plan and its journalistic future.
NMT is being organized as a non-profit organization, according to owner/editor Gina Hamilton.
“Clearly, we were inspired by the Maine Times,” Hamilton wrote in an e-mail, “but we also feel that the media is doing ... pardon the earthiness ... a piss-poor job of covering news, especially in light of the current administration's obvious failings, and it seems that a nonprofit ... which is beholden to no advertiser ... is the best way to get the story out. We may be the heir to the Maine Times (and I hope people will see us that way) but we are also the kid sister to the MinnPost.”
The MinnPost is a Minnesota-based non-profit news site.
Great model – if you can find a way to pay for it.
Hamilton has lots of ideas: “So far, all the work has been a labor of love but I have already written several grants and have at least one local foundation interested in matching an expected grant from New Media Women Entrepreneurs, which will at least pay the staff and stringers. We have other revenue streams planned – direct donations from our readers, and corporate and even small business underwriting.”
Unlike other Web-based news organizations, NMT isn’t starting small. Besides Hamilton, who left her old job as editor of the MaineToday Media-owned weekly Coastal Journal in early March because “the format took a decidedly unfortunate turn,” the staff includes three young reporters, a photographer and a graphic designer, as well as several stringers and some freelance material (Hamilton says the first issue will feature a “passing of the torch story” by original Maine Times contributor Sanford Phippen).
She estimates her annual budget will be in the neighborhood of $200,000.
How practical is that for a nonprofit?
According to Naomi Schalit of the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, a two-person, not-for-profit, investigative journalism organization, it’s “a tough row to hoe.”
In an e-mail, Schalit wrote, “We've pulled it off this year, but it's taken a huge amount of time away from our journalism to do the fundraising. I spent virtually all my work time in the last quarter of 2010 raising money. Oh, the stories I wanted to do! It's not for the faint of heart and it's not easy and it's 24/7. And there's a lot of competition, especially at a time when social services are being cut.”
Not to mention the possibility that Congress will reduce or eliminate funding for public broadcasting, forcing another non-profit news outlet to seek more private grants and underwriting.
The New Maine Times will have to be of high quality and high ingenuity to avoid the issue that doomed its namesake: money.
Too much Japan? According to a reliable source, Nick Cowenhoven, the city editor of the Journal Tribune in Biddeford, was fired this week after a dispute with management over coverage of the disaster in Japan. The upper echelons wanted the story of the tsunami and the nuclear-reactor meltdowns taken off page one. Cowenhoven didn’t.
There’s no mention of the dismissal or the name of Cowenhoven’s replacement on the afternoon daily’s Web site, nor did anyone in the news room return a phone call seeking more information.
The other Donald: Portland Phoenix editor Jeff Inglis has a blog post online on the long-standing rumor that hedge fund millionaire S. Donald Sussman is planning to start a daily newspaper to compete with the Portland Press Herald.
Inglis got a firm denial from a Sussman public-relations person, who said the fiancée of Congresswoman Chellie Pingree has no intention of getting into print journalism and was also not providing financial backing to the above-mentioned New Maine Times.
(Disclosure: My weekly political column runs in the Phoenix.)
No remorse: I finally got my hands on a copy of the March issue of the Columbia Journalism Review, which contains a column critical of the Portland Press Herald’s political donations.
(The story isn’t online yet, but will be posted on March 29, according to an e-mail from author and assistant editor Lauren Kirchner.)
The magazine gives the newspaper a “dart” for quietly helping out a political campaign to create an elected mayor in Portland by donating nearly $50,000 in ad space. But what’s most interesting are the comments from Press Herald executive editor Scott Wasser.
Wasser told CJR that complaints about the free ads were “sour grapes” on the part of the losers in that election. He also claimed the paper had no idea the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce planned to use the extra space to promote the elected-mayor effort, even though chamber officials said they asked for the free ads for that specific purpose.
“If there was any wrongdoing,” said Wasser, “it was by the Chamber, who used the space inappropriately.”
He also said Press Herald management was considering new rules for donated ad space that would prevent it from being used for political campaigns.
No effort: On March 14, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins sent out a press release on a bill she’s co-sponsoring to promote rural education.
A few hours later, MaineToday Media Washington bureau chief Jonathan “National Treasure” Riskind posted a story on his blog on the company’s Web site.
Riskind did manage to change a few words and phrases. But only a few.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.