Whither Maine's Media
Joseph Pulitzer once said that a newspaper should have no friends. Maine's papers seem to be doing a great job of fulfilling that dictum lately.
Daily newspapers are the prism through which we view our politics, and for decades have been the source of the public's political institutional memory and the arbiter of what's important in state politics and policy. That may not last much longer.
According to Al Diamon, Richard Connor's failure to convince the Maine state retirement system board to invest in his purchase of the Blethen papers leaves his group at least $10 million short of the amount needed to aquire the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal, Morning Sentinel and other Blethen properties in Maine. The worsening economy and the folding of newspapers accross the country don't bode well for the success of Connor's bid, even at the rock-bottom price that he seems to have secured.
Other Maine media sources have had their own problems, with advertising declining, newsrooms shrinking and some outlets, like politickerME.com, closing down completely. Down East Magazine had its own layoffs recently.
Interestingly, much of the best reporting that's been done on these problems at print publications has been from online sources. In addition to Diamon's column, the pseudononymous blogger T.C. Munjoy has provided a stream of insidery and often antagonistic rants about the Blethen troubles and Colin Woodard has been weighing in on his blog with the occasional big-picture view of the papers' problems.
The newspapers know there's been a shift in the way people get their news and they've been attempting to harness new media as well. The Bangor Daily News is publishing a daily videocast, the Portland Press Herald threw a bunch of blogs against the wall a while back (few of them stuck) and also twittered the presidential inauguration, and the Sun Journal is hosting a series of live, online chats with their editors. These are all interesting features, but they won't be enough to save the industry if the doom-sayers are right and the daily newspaper model really is unsustainable.
Woodard links to one such opinion in his latest roundup, which posits that many daily newspapers can't be saved and that no comparable general news source will replace them, a future that could be bad news for those who value good political reporting.
We're still a few hours from midnight, however. Political reporting in Maine is in much better shape than what you might think from reading the above. The last time I visited the Capitol press rooms, they were full of reporters. I saw Matt Wickenheiser of the Portland Press Herald, Susan Cover of the Kennebec Journal/Morning Sentinel, Rebekah Metzler of the Sun Journal, Mal Leary of the Capitol News Service, and Glenn Adams of the Associated Press all physically present and working on stories. I'm sure Christopher Cousins of the Statehouse News Service and perhaps a few others were wandering around Augusta somewhere, and that's just the print reporters.
A new local newspaper, the Portland Daily Sun, also recently launched in Maine's largest city.
There are tough times ahead for Maine's newspapers, but there's still good cooverage going on and hopefully plenty of time left to innovate and find ways to save the parts of the daily newspaper model that are most important.
In other Maine political news this week...
Senate President Libby Mitchell has proposed a $200 million affordable housing revenue bond.
The Portland Phoenix takes on corruption in Augusta.
Republicans accused the governor of hiding a shortfall in MaineCare.
But the budget process is still on track, and amicable.
Maine's hospitals got a big check from the government.
And are facing off against municipalities over a law to tax leased hospital properties.
Maine's chief justice says the state's courts are in a tough spot.
Baldacci hinted at a spirited referendum campaign to defend his school consolidation law.
The same-sex marriage bill has 63 co-sponsors, only one is a Republican.
Herbert Hoffman has written a bill to help write-in candidates.