The Connor Chronicles Continue
Rich’s reward unrefunded: The owners of the Times Leader newspaper in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, filed a lawsuit on May 24 against former publisher and CEO Richard Connor claiming he had failed to repay $250,123 in loans. Connor was forced out at the Times Leader last year, shortly before he was also asked to resign from similar positions at MaineToday Media, publisher of three Maine dailies (the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel).
The lawsuit is carefully worded, alleging that Connor “engaged in a pattern” of actions that resulted in cash being transferred from the paper to his personal account. It goes on to say that after those transfers were discovered, the company and Connor “reached an understanding” acknowledging the transactions were loans that would have to be repaid. It says Connor signed agreements concerning the money and his obligation to repay the loans after audits in both 2008 and 2010.
According to the suit, Connor has refused to make those payments and claims the documents he signed may not be valid. The Times Leader quoted his attorney as saying the company has failed to provide detailed information on the dispute that Connor has requested.
To date, no similar legal action has been filed in Maine, but there have been hints of serious problems with MaineToday’s bookkeeping. Until Connor’s abrupt resignation, he had claimed MTM was profitable. In reality, it was deep in debt to the point where bankruptcy seemed likely. According to a March article by Colin Woodard (who’s now a reporter for MaineToday) in Down East, “the company books had been kept in a sloppy fashion, especially the way expenses were shared between Maine Today Media and Connor’s Pennsylvania chain.”
If it ain’t local: Over the past couple of weeks, the Lewiston Sun Journal has been making an obvious effort to put more local news on its front page. That’s an improvement, as the Sun Journal had fallen into a pattern of often having only one staff-produced story out front – and sometimes none at all.
Unfortunately, the new policy may be having an unintended side effect: a lack of follow up.
On May 22, the Lewiston paper had a scoop. The state Department of Education had rescinded a $300,000 grant to Auburn’s schools for summer and after-school programs for some disadvantaged students. The article by staff writer Bonnie Washuk noted that other districts had also lost similar grants and included a vague explanation from state officials about problems with the request for proposals that had caused some applicants to be rejected.
The questions raised seemed to indicate the need for more digging. Who’s responsible? How much damage did this decision do, not only in Auburn, but also in Portland, Biddeford and Fryeburg, the other school districts that lost grants? What schools were unfairly denied grant money? How did legislators feel about this screw up? And much more.
Instead of chasing the answers down, the Sun Journal punted. No further stories on the subject appeared, until the Bangor Daily News picked up the trail on May 25, delving into some – but not all – of the unanswered questions.
Of course, by then, it was a statewide story, rather than a local one. But that seems like a poor excuse for the Sun Journal not finishing what it started.
Al Diamon can be emailed at email@example.com.