MaineToday Union Turns New Investors Down
Guild girds loins: The Portland Newspaper Guild has rejected a request by the 2100 Trust, potential new investors in MaineToday Media, to make huge concessions in wages and working conditions covered in the current contract. As a result, the company could be forced into bankruptcy in the near future.
The guild is the largest union at MaineToday, which publishes the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. The 2100 Trust submitted a list of cuts last week that would have significantly weakened the guild and resulted in a large decrease in expenses for MTM. Without those changes, the investors told the union, it was likely MaineToday would be forced into bankruptcy court.
According to published reports, MTM is $7.6 million in debt, an amount that probably exceeds the value of its assets.
Some union sources said bankruptcy was their preferred option because they doubted the new investors had a business plan that could turn MaineToday’s financial picture around. These sources also felt the guild would have more protection of its rights in court, because it could resist any changes a judge might order in its contract by going on strike.
But union president Tom Bell said the guild is not planning a work stoppage and hopes to avoid that option.
“We have no illusions about bankruptcy,” Bell said. Bankruptcy is not a good place for us. We understand that.”
He said the guild remains open to negotiating further with these investors or others, although he added, “We felt we could not make a deal with this guy,” referring to Aaron Kushner, the Massachusetts businessman who assembled the 2100 Trust. “His proposal was very extreme. It got things off to a very bad start. It’s hard for a relationship to recover from an initial proposal like that.”
Bell said negotiations with Kushner fell apart after he refused to give the union a legal document saying that if the company went bankrupt, he wouldn’t try to make further changes to the contract in court.
It’s now unclear what the next step is. Bell said he didn’t know if the 2100 Trust would still try to buy MaineToday, although he was “assuming” it would. Although the guild has representation on MaineToday’s board, its member there is subject to a nondisclosure clause that prevents him from providing the union with information on the state of the sale.
Crash site: Crash Barry, who used to be Chris Barry when he worked with me at the now-defunct Casco Bay Weekly in the 1990s, is one of the most tenacious reporters I’ve ever met. Also, one of the most biased. The result was often fascinating – and imaginative – reporting unlike that anywhere else in the Maine media. Of late, Barry has concentrated on writing books, some fiction, some allegedly not. But he’s recently put up a website, where he explores the “seamy side of life.”
That includes journalism, with Barry taking issue with coverage in the Portland Press Herald of a huge hydroponics lettuce and fish facility proposed for construction in Windham. He raises some important issues that the mainstream media should have covered (the parent company’s track record, waste disposal), making me wish he was doing more reporting, even if it meant fewer books.
Clouded Sun: The Portland Daily Sun published a curious story by staff writer Matthew Arco On Jan. 20. It revealed that somebody had leaked an emailed memo to the media containing the names of candidates for the vacant police chief position in Portland. Among the news outlets that had obtained this classified information was the Sun itself.
After explaining how annoyed city officials were about the leak, Arco has this paragraph:
“The Sun has learned that possible finalists include two internal applicants, a candidate from Massachusetts, another from Maine and a fifth applicant from a populated city located in the Midwest. The finalists' identities could not be confirmed.”
Uh … what?
The newspaper has an official city email with the names listed and it can’t confirm the identities? What more confirmation does it need?
This looks like a serious case of timidity, with the Sun fearing its small staff will be frozen out of Portland City Hall if it didn’t agree to keep the names secret.
At least, the paper admitted it had the information. Other media that received the memo didn’t even go that far, apparently so afraid they’d lose access to city officials, they didn’t even dare to hint they knew who the top-cop finalists are.
New Forecasters: According to editor Mo Mehlsak, the following people have been hired for the vacant reporting jobs at the Forecaster weeklies in Greater Portland:
Andrew Cullen moves from the daily Lewiston Sun Journal to replace Randy Billings, who jumped to Mainebiz.
Gillian Graham of the Mainely Media weeklies takes the spot formerly occupied by Emily Parkhurst, who’s off to a business reporting job in the Pacific Northwest.
And David Harry is also leaving Mainely Media to fill the void left by Amy Anderson’s departure.
Al Diamon can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.