Press Herald for sale?

By JEFF INGLIS  |  August 24, 2006

But McClatchy, which kept from the Knight Ridder deal papers in markets averaging 11.1 percent growth in number of households, would likely look at Maine’s projected population growth of 0.5 percent through 2020, and refuse a trade, preferring either to sell its share outright, or keep drawing meager dividends (which in 2005 gave Knight Ridder $3.7 million). That would leave the Blethens to find another buyer.

A self-congratulatory editorial on August 13 in the Maine Sunday Telegram paraphrased Frank Blethen as saying his family will not “take part” in the “jostling and realignment” of newspapers that has come after the Knight Ridder sale, suggesting the papers are not for sale.

On the same day (and also inspired by the 110th anniversary of the Seattle Times), Guttman wrote in her column that the family ownership of the Maine papers is the reason “so many of our journalists and employees have chosen to be at the newspaper.” She did not address the ongoing and looming labor disputes, but paraphrased Cochrane telling staffers “there is no corporate office in our company. There are no corporate directives or missives. At our newspaper, Maine people call the shots.” (That, presumably, includes such “Maine people” as Cochrane, who came here from Washington when the Blethens bought the papers, and Guttman, who started her career in California and came to Maine in 1994.)

Guttman wrote about how “values” and commitment to community are what drive the Press Herald/Sunday Telegram, rather than finances, saying “our goal is loftier than making record-higher profits quarter to quarter, year to year.” (That must be a relief, given the dark financial position the Seattle and Maine papers are in.) She wrote about the “freedom” that family ownership gives to a newspaper. And she quoted a memo from Frank Blethen on the occasion of the company’s 110th anniversary: “We are proud of the dedicated employees . . . We are pleased that we could keep Portland, Waterville, and Augusta away from the sorry fate of the faceless investor ownership which has fallen on most newspapers.”

Who else would be interested in buying? The Costello family, who own the Lewiston Sun Journal, have been expanding their holdings in Southern Maine in recent years, buying the weekly Forecaster chain in 2003, and in 2005 adding the Rumford Falls Times and the Norway Advertiser-Democrat. They, too, are a privately held family newspaper company with years of presence in Maine. There’s also the Warren family, who own the Bangor Daily News.

Chris Harte, a former publisher of the Press Herald/Sunday Telegram (when they were owned by Guy Gannett), who also used to be a Knight Ridder executive, was part of a group that bid to purchase the Philadelphia Daily News and the Philadelphia Inquirer, which became available as part of the McClatchy-Knight Ridder deal, but ended up not being the winning bidder.

Harte, an heir to the Texas-based Harte-Hanks newspaper fortune who lives in Cumberland Foreside and has an office in downtown Portland, is a major investor in the rapidly growing Current Publishing weekly-newspaper empire in Southern Maine. He told the Inquirer in March that he “might look at some of the other” papers Knight Ridder had held as well, though he says he is not likely to be interested in buying the Maine papers.

Kirsten Terry contributed to this report

On the Web
Portland Press Herald: http://www.pressherald.com/
Seattle Times: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/

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