MaineToday Media’s Big Debts and Big Salaries
Connor’s legacy: The Jan. 11 Portland Daily Sun has a fascinating story by David Carkhuff on the financial health of the MaineToday Media newspapers, which include the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. According to documents filed in a court case against MTM, the company owes $7.6 million to RBS Citizens, N.A., a Delaware-based lender that has placed a lien on all MaineToday’s assets.
As a result, MTM’s lawyer says it can neither pay McGrann Paper Corp. of Charlotte, N.C. for newsprint it bought nor return the unused paper. McGrann sued MaineToday last year for the $124,000 overdue payment. According to a document McGrann filed in the case that’s quoted in the Sun story, “Amid cash flow problems, plans to restructure and the looming possibility of bankruptcy, Maine Today began stockpiling paper in an effort to continue meeting its printing needs before McGrann learned of its inability to pay.”
MaineToday’s chief financial officer Patrick Sweeney responded to the suit, writing that “unforeseen constraints on MTM's cash flow made it impossible for MTM to make immediate payment.”
What were those constraints? In part, it appears to be the enormous salary paid to since-departed CEO Richard Connor. Connor was pushed out by MaineToday’s board of directors in October. The split was the result of the board’s discovery of the company’s precarious financial situation and questions about payments for management services. Company president Dale Duncan was also let go, as was vice president of advertising Michelle Lester (who departed a week after Duncan). According to the court filings, that reduction in management saved MaineToday $1.5 million a year. Other sources say most of that figure represents payments to Connor in both salary and perks. If those figures are correct, it means the company CEO was drawing a huge paycheck at the same time he was laying off workers and failing to pay the bills.
MTM announced last week that a new investment group is attempting to buy a majority of the company. If that deal goes through, it would likely result in a settlement of MaineToday’s debts to RBS and McGrann.
Disdain for disclosure: Two glaring examples of failure to disclose conflict of interest showed up in MaineToday papers this week. On Jan. 10, the Press Herald carried a story by staff writer Dennis Hoey on a public hearing about a controversial plans to create a new park adjacent to Scarborough Beach State Park in Scarborough.
No mention that MaineToday minority owner and board member Robert C.S. Monks is also on the boards of the Sprague Corp. and Black Point Resource Management LLC, the two companies pushing the park.
This isn’t the first time this has happened. In fact, not mentioning Monks’ role in stories the MaineToday papers cover seems to be official policy.
On Jan. 11, the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel carried George Smith’s weekly column, “The Native Conservative” (Smith is also a blogger for Down East.com). The piece berated Republican Gov. Paul LePage for his poor showing in fulfilling promises to sportsmen.
While Smith managed to take up more than a third of his space stating his GOP credentials, he couldn’t find room for even a single sentence to mention that LePage recently fired his sister from a top job at the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, an event that may have colored his view of the governor’s policies.
Campaign non-coverage: The political season has barely begun here in Maine, and already the Lewiston Sun Journal has reverted to its past habit of running press releases from candidates without the slightest editing.
On Jan. 10, the paper carried a lengthy piece with no byline about Franklin County sheriff candidate Tom White.
No mention of who else is running. No mention of the incumbent and his plans. No mention of anything except what White’s campaign put in its release.
That’s not news. That’s public relations. It should be labeled as such.
The Sun Journal isn’t alone in practicing this particular form of non-journalism. Much of White’s handout made it into the Morning Sentinel a day later.
Al Diamon can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.