In sweeping deal, national nonprofit to buy most of Maine’s newspapers

The terms of the agreement were not made public.

The news was first reported by the Portland Press Herald, one of the daily newspapers that will be included in the sale. The deal also involves the Lewiston Sun Journal, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, the Morning Sentinel in Waterville and the Times Record in Brunswick. (The Bangor Daily News is the only major Maine newspaper not under the Masthead Maine banner.)

Uncertainty has surrounded the future of Maine̵[ads1]7;s largest media group since Brower announced in March that he was exploring a sale. Many were concerned that the publications would be taken over by a venture capital group or hedge fund that would take the newspapers out of local hands.

In an interview with the Press Herald, Brower said there were “several other avenues I could have pursued” for the sale, but he declined to elaborate.

“The deal made sense,” Brower, 66, said in an interview with the Globe on Monday. “There wasn’t much back and forth. They came in during the process and it all just fell together. It’s all I really felt was necessary and it checked the most boxes.”

Brower said the “hybrid” approach of the nonprofit owning the for-profit company is what appealed to him.

“I’m just a believer that for newspapers to thrive, there has to be some sustainability to it,” he said.

News of the sale was hailed by Masthead Maine management, including Lisa DeSisto, CEO of Masthead Maine, and Steve Greenlee, managing editor of the Portland Press Herald.

Reade Brower in Rockland, Maine on October 25, 2017. GRETA RYBUS/NOW/NOW

Bill Nemitz, a recently retired Press Herald columnist who launched the Maine Journalism Foundation earlier this year in an effort to acquire the papers, also praised the deal. Nemitz said the foundation worked in close consultation with the Trust as the deal progressed, and that partnership will continue once the sale goes through.

“We’re incredibly excited,” Nemitz said in an interview with the Globe on Monday. “The fact that this all came together in such a short amount of time was such a positive outcome is beyond our wildest dreams at this point.”

It remains to be seen what the new ownership will mean for the operation of Masthead Maine, which includes around 400 employees. As a nonprofit organization, the National Trust is eligible for philanthropic support, the Press Herald reported, although the publications will continue to generate revenue.

DeSisto and her staff will continue to manage the publications under the new ownership, employee benefits will remain stable through the year, and the Trust will recognize the four unions that represent employees of the media group, the Press Herald reported.

The News Guild of Maine, which represents just under 200 employees at the Press Herald and Morning Sentinel, said it was “optimistic” about the sale in a statement late Monday, noting that the union “will seek a meeting with the team from National Trust in the coming weeks” to learn more about the changes coming under the new ownership.

“We are grateful that Reade Brower chose to pursue an ideal business model rather than sell his companies to the bad actors who have decimated news organizations across the country,” the statement said. “In Colorado and other states, we see a positive track record for the National Trust for Local News, and we look forward to learning more about their plans.”

The sale marks the second major acquisition for the Trust, which was co-founded in 2021 by Hansen Shapiro, a former fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. In the spring of that year, the Trust partnered with the Colorado Sun to form a group to buy 24 Colorado newspapers.

“We have an overall set of principles and strategies for sustainability and for improving the quality of local service,” Hansen Shapiro told the Press Herald, “but all the details of what that means for the newspapers is really something we’re going to be working closely with with [DeSisto] on and collaborate with members of the community.”

As local news deserts across the country continue to grow and circulations plummet, the ideal newsroom model has become more popular. From 2017 through July 2022, over 135 nonprofit newsrooms were launched, according to the Institute for Nonprofit News. A handful of nonprofit outlets already exist in Maine, such as the Maine Monitor and Amjambo Africa, a free publication about the African diaspora.

“I took care of it last decade. It’s their job to figure out how to envision what the next decade is going to look like,” Brower said of the Trust.

Copies of Norway, Maine’s weekly newspaper, Annonsørdemokraten, one of the publications acquired by the National Trust for Local News.Carl D. Walsh for The Boston Globe

Dana Gerber can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @danagerber6.

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