Nonprofit Buys 22 Newspapers in Maine

A nonprofit that aims to maintain local ownership for newspapers will buy 22 papers in Maine, including The Portland Press Herald and The Sun Journal of Lewiston.

The National Trust for Local News, a nonprofit that was started in 2021, will buy the papers from Masthead Maine, a private company that owns most of the independent media outlets in the state, including five of its six daily papers. Masthead Maine’s owner, Reade Brower, had signaled this year that he was exploring a sale.

The deal includes the five daily papers and 17 weekly papers, Elizabeth Hansen Shapiro, the chief executive of the National Trust for Local News, said on Tuesday.

Ms. Hansen Shapiro said Maine residents had told her organization that there was an opportunity for nonprofit ownership after Bill Nemitz, a longtime Portland Press Herald columnist, asked readers in April to donate to help a nonprofit organization preserve local journalism in the state.

“We firmly believe in the power of independent, nonpartisan local journalism to strengthen communities and forge meaningful connections,” Ms. Hansen Shapiro said. “We understand the pivotal role that Masthead Maine and its esteemed publications play in serving the communities of Maine with reliable, high-quality news.”

The deal is expected to be completed by the end of July, she said. She declined to specify the sale price.

In addition to the Portland and Lewiston papers, the sale includes The Kennebec Journal in Augusta, The Morning Sentinel in Waterville and The Times Record in Brunswick. The state’s sixth daily paper, The Bangor Daily News, remains owned by the Bangor Publishing Company.

“This could be the most important moment in the history of Maine journalism,” Steve Greenlee, the executive editor of The Portland Press Herald and The Maine Sunday Telegram, said in an email. “Our news report has always strived to serve the public good, and now our business model will align with that mission.”

Many local newspapers have shut down in the past 20 years, as declining print circulation and slowing advertising revenue hollowed them out. Private equity firms and hedge funds in recent years have snapped up the distressed assets, often cutting the shrinking newsrooms even further. The investment firm Alden Global Capital has become the country’s second-biggest newspaper operator.

A number of nonprofit news organizations have cropped up around the United States in recent years to try to address the crisis in local news and fill a void left by closed newspapers. These include outlets like The Baltimore Banner and Honolulu Civil Beat.

The National Trust for Local News, based in Denver, was started with a goal of preserving local news outlets by helping them find ways to become sustainable. The organization owns 24 local newspapers in Colorado through a collaboration with The Colorado Sun. It has philanthropic funders that include the Gates Family Foundation, the Google News Initiative and the Knight Foundation.

The executive board of the News Guild of Maine, the union representing nearly 200 workers at the papers, said in a statement that it was grateful Mr. Brower had chosen to “pursue a nonprofit business model rather than sell his companies to the bad actors that have decimated news organizations across the country.”

“We see the nonprofit model as one that can better sustain journalism’s dual nature as both a consumer product and a public good,” the board said.

Source: New York Times

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