Struggles for Soup and Star: Weekly newspapers in Maine are feeling the effects of the recession. In the wake of the demise (perhaps temporary) of the Katahdin Times in Millinocket, comes the news that Rockland-based Village Soup has cut the pay of all 95 of its employees by 10 percent.
Soup publishes the Bar Harbor Times, the Republican Journal in Belfast, the Capital Weekly in Augusta and the Herald Gazette covering Camden and Rockland. (Disclosure: My weekly political column runs in all those papers.)
Ron Belyea, vice president and chief operating officer of the company, told the Bangor Daily News the paycheck cutbacks were necessary because of declines in advertising from car dealers, real estate agencies and help-wanted classifieds. Belyea said circulation at the papers is holding steady, and ad revenue from small local businesses is holding up. He said the company was generating 19 percent of its advertising income online, one of the highest rates in the industry.
Without the salary cuts, Belyea said, Village Soup would have had to lay off 10 percent of its workforce.
At the York County Coast Star in Kennebunk, at least six people were laid off recently, according to an informed source in the media. Neither Kelly Morgan, the paper’s editor, nor John Tabor, publisher of the parent Seacoast Media Group, returned phone calls seeking confirmation and comment.
If the information on the layoffs is correct, it would mark the latest in a series of cuts at the Star, once one of the state’s most respected – and profitable – weeklies, that have left the paper a shell of its former self.
Negotiations for Connor and unions: Pennsylvania Newspaper publisher Richard Connor, the public face of the group seeking to buy the Blethen Maine Newspapers, is pushing for new concessions from unions representing workers at the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel. Union negotiators for the Portland Newspaper Guild and the Communications Workers of America have already agreed to ask their members to accept a two-year wage freeze, a longer work week and loss of a week’s vacation in return for a 15 percent equity stake in the new company and union membership on the board of directors. But the precipitous and continuing drop in ad revenues at the papers has motivated Connor to ask for additional undisclosed rollbacks, according to a union leader. Significant layoffs at all three papers are also likely, but union officials wouldn’t comment on that.
The sale is now expected to close in March, although several such deadlines have come and gone without any signatures on the dotted line.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com.