About Town - Portland Press Herald

Friday, August 29, 2008

NBC Nightly News asks: Press Herald's 'final edition?'

In a case of struggling media reporting on struggling media, Brian Williams closed last night's NBC Nightly News broadcast with a report from Portland, Maine, with people talking about the troubles the Portland Press Herald has been having.

The graphic for the segment was the Press Herald's logo over the words "FINAL EDITION?"

It streams here.

I know they did at least one interview that never aired as part of the segment. Portland state Rep. Herb Adams spoke with the reporter, and even offered them the opportunity to film his own personal copy of the issue the Portland Phoenix put out two years ago this week. The cover story then? This one.

Sadly, NBC didn't use that clip.

When I talked to the reporter last week, I sent her links to some of my stories about the PPH, and she asked if I was willing to appear on camera. Despite my willingness, I never heard from her again - and still haven't.

And NBC didn't mention the Phoenix or any other media in town at all in their piece, leaving the impression that if the Press Herald closed, the whole city would be without any news at all.

8/29/2008 4:02:00 PM by Jeff Inglis | Comments [0] |  

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A little insider info from the PPH

In Sunday's Washington Post, ex-Portland Press Herald DC correspondent Jonathan Kaplan laments the decreasing number of Washington correspondents reporting for regional and local newspapers around the country. It's as much a plea for his old job back as anything else - of course, the guy might properly claim to have been duped, as in December 2007 the PPH hired him away from The Hill, where he had worked for five years, and then barely six months later laid him off

But his piece also shows how well the Press Herald brass handled the layoffs - while he was being interviewed before being hired, PPH execs were "proud ... they had a bureau in Washington ... (and) never implied that the lone Maine reporter's seat in the Capitol was in jeopardy of growing cold."

But lo, on June 23, a human-resources staffer sent Kaplan himself an e-mail intended for his bosses, asking when he'd be canned. It wasn't until three days later that the editor actually bothered to confirm what, at that point, had to be some serious suspicions.

And he ends the piece with an ironic bit political-theater reporting that Kaplan says justifies keeping DC correspondents. Back in May, he tells Post readers, US Senator Susan Collins praised an aspect of the farm bill, and then voted against the entire bill.

If that's his strongest argument for having a Washington bureau, it's a weak argument indeed - Kaplan was on the job in May, and never told his readers about that event.

8/26/2008 2:24:00 PM by Jeff Inglis | Comments [0] |  

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

PPH has Web woes

UPDATE: Just before 11 am, the Tuesday news went live on the Press Herald's site.

For an organization that at least periodically claims to be looking to the Web as a key to the future, the Portland Press Herald is having a pretty rough few days. From Thursday night through Sunday morning, the site was unable to be updated - the best they could do was post stories in a small sidebar column on the site's front page.

That got resolved in time for most readers of Sunday's Web version of the paper, but today, at 10:42 am, yesterday's news (heck, yesterday's DATE) was still on the site. Here's a pic:


There's not even an update that says they're having problems - which suggests the problems are so severe they can't even post such a notice.


7/1/2008 10:38:00 AM by Jeff Inglis | Comments [0] |  

Friday, May 30, 2008

35 more layoffs at Press Herald

No sooner did I post the last entry than into my e-mail box came a copy of the latest newsletter from Robert Bickler, the general manager of the Blethen Maine Newspapers, leading with this little gem:

General Manager’s Update:
Owing to a continuation of significant declines and advertising volumes coupled with rising business costs, the executive management team has been working aggressively to develop a plan that will provide additional non-payroll savings including newsprint, travel, supplies, postage and other costs. Unfortunately, it has been determined that we will also need to eliminate a significant number of positions in an effort to bring expenses more in-line with revenues that are available to us. While details are still being worked out, a reduction in workforce is expected to occur effective July 1.
Few things are more difficult than eliminating the jobs of valued employees. But, in the current business climate we must maintain the economic viability of our business. Unfortunately, staff reductions are necessary in order to assure that.

The Newspaper Guild's notice, which arrived shortly thereafter, says: "up to 35 full and part-time employees represented by the Guild at the Portland Newspapers and Maine Today will lose their jobs."

Ironically, accompanying Bickler's e-mailed newsletter to the employees was an updated copy of the evacuation plan for the company's headquarters building at 390 Congress Street. Sounds like a lot of people will be leaving in a hurry.

5/30/2008 4:21:00 PM by Jeff Inglis | Comments [0] |  

Press Herald union won't buy the paper

Crosscut Seattle is reporting some fascinating info on the prospects for a buyer of the Blethen Maine Newspapers (the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, Central Maine Morning Sentinel, and Kennebec Journal, plus and ancillary related properties, including real-estate holdings in Portland, South Portland and elsewhere).

Here's a link to the story, by Bill Richards, who has covered the Seattle Times and the Blethen family for many years.

Some highlights: 

-The newspaper's employees union declined to sign a non-disclosure agreement with the Blethens that could have allowed them to view the company's financial information, Crosscut reports.

-Three buyers are in the running to be the new owners.

-Ten prospective buyers have looked at the papers' financial records, some with primary interest in the papers' real-estate holdings.

-Richards names Black Press, the Canadian newspaper giant, as a possible buyer, though the company's owner wouldn't confirm that.


5/30/2008 3:17:00 PM by Jeff Inglis | Comments [0] |  

Friday, April 18, 2008

More layoffs at Blethen papers

There is more bad news for the employees of the Blethen Maine Newspapers - five full-timers and four part-timers are being laid off from the Augusta-based Kennebec Journal and the Waterville-based Morning Sentinel, sister papers of the Portland Press Herald. And it's not the last of the cost-cutting for the year. "Highlights," which really are lowlights, include: total ad revenue has dropped $70,000 since last year, circulation revenue is down $71,000, and third-party commercial printing jobs are down $52,000.

This after last week's strange news. about how Frank Blethen thinks about newspapers.

Here's today's all-staff memo from KJ/MS publisher John Christie:

To:   All Employees
From: John Christie

About a month ago, I spoke to you about the financial state of Central
Maine Newspapers. I explained that when we established the financial goals
for 2008, we recognized this would be a tough year and planned – with the
approval of Blethen Maine Newspapers – to make less money this year than we
did last year.

Despite that very reasonable approach, the year started off behind, with
January results that were discouraging. Although February results were
better, they did not make up for the shortfall in January. Still, we needed
at least one more month’s results before we could project a trend for the
months ahead. It was at that point – when the results of the first two
months were “in the books” – that I spoke with you.

I was asked then if layoffs or other cutbacks were planned. I said, no,
there was no specific plan at that point, but that layoffs were always
possible. I added that we would monitor financial results on a
month-by-month basis and determine at the end of each month whether layoffs
and other expense reductions would be necessary.

March financials are now in and have been reviewed, along with projections
for the rest of the year. They are not good. March revenues were down by 6
percent versus last year and cash flow for the month was 28 percent below
budget. For the first quarter, cash flow was off well more than $100,000
vs. budget and even more than that vs. January-March, 2007.

We cannot sit back and hope things will turn around. We have to take action
now; waiting will just make the hole deeper and require bigger cutbacks.

For that reason, we are today announcing a set of expense reductions,
including some layoffs.

The cutbacks include:

      Layoffs: five full time and four part-time employees. Those affected
         will be notified today and will receive severance payments based
         upon their years of service. The actual number of people affected
         may be smaller because one or two may be able to fill vacancies in
         other, related areas. In most cases (but not all), the layoffs are
         related to a reduction in work in the effected departments. For
         example, there is less commercial print work and fewer classified
         ads and those two areas are among the effected departments.
      Department directors have already or will soon further reduce
         expenses by reorganizing their departments in ways that ensure
         that our work assignments are well aligned with the areas where we
         need to put our best efforts. Some people have already had their
         work assignments modified; others will very soon; and a few
         changes will occur later this year as opportunities arise.

In making these cutbacks, we have been careful not to materially diminish
our service to readers and advertisers. There should be no discernible
difference in our daily and Sunday products.

The reasons for the cutbacks are worth explaining.

First, the expense side:

   Newsprint – the paper we print on – costs a lot more than it did a year
      ago. Between the recent price increases and the ones scheduled for
      the next two months, our costs for newsprint will have risen 15
      percent compared to a year ago.
   Fuel. Our fuel costs include delivery trucks, mileage by reporters,
      photographers, sales representatives, circulation employees and
      contractors and heating oil. Gas is up 18 percent from a year ago;
      diesel and heating oil are up even more.

Second, the revenue side:

   Total advertising revenue is down $70,000 compared to a year ago, mostly
      due to classified and national advertising declines. Retail
      advertising – which comes mostly from local business – is holding
   Circulations revenue is down $71,000 vs. last year.
   Commercial print revenue is down $52,000 vs. last year. This is due
      mostly to the Sun-Journal purchasing the Franklin newspapers and
      switching the printing from CMN to their own plant; and other jobs
      switching to presses near their home base in order to reduce
      transportation costs (more fallout from the high price of fuel).

We have avoided layoffs for the past five years, a time when most
newspapers have had multiple layoffs and buyouts. But we could not be
immune forever to the broad forces that caused problems at those
newspapers. Some of those factors, such as a stagnant economy, the cost of
commodities and the effect of the Internet, have damaged our business to
the point that we have to take these regrettable steps or risk having to
take even more drastic steps in the near future.

You will likely wonder if today’s announcement is connected to the fact BMN
is for sale. There is no connection. Declining revenues and rising expenses
would have to be dealt with under any circumstance if we ar