Nonprofit buys 22 newspapers in Maine

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

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

The deal includes five dailies and 17 weeklies, Elizabeth Hansen Shapiro, executive director of the National Trust for Local News, said Tuesday.

Hansen Shapiro said Maine residents had told his organization 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 preserve local journalism in the state.

“We firmly believe in the power of independent, nonpartisan local journalism to strengthen communities and make meaningful connections,” said Hansen Shapiro. “We understand the central role that Masthead Maine and its renowned 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 newspaper, The Bangor Daily News, remains owned by the Bangor Publishing Company.

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

Many local newspapers have closed over the past 20 years as declining circulation and reduced advertising revenue eroded them. In recent years, private equity companies and hedge funds have picked up the distressed assets, often cutting the shrinking newsrooms even further. The investment company Alden Global Capital has become the country’s second largest newspaper operator.

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

The National Trust for Local News, based in Denver, was started with a goal to preserve local news outlets by helping them find ways to become sustainable. The organization owns 24 local newspapers in Colorado through a partnership with The Colorado Sun. It has philanthropic endowments 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 that represents nearly 200 newspaper workers, said in a statement that it was grateful Brower had chosen “to pursue a non-profit business model rather than sell his companies to the bad actors who have decimated news organizations over entire country.”

“We see the ideal model as one that can better maintain the dual nature of journalism as both a consumer product and a public good,” the board said.

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