March 16, 2010

Portland paper has potential buyers

DENNIS HOEY

— By

20071009_WalshPier
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20071009_WalshPier

Gordon Chibroski

COHEN
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COHEN

AP

Additional Photos Below

Staff Writer

A former Maine senator, two well-known Maine businessmen and a longtime newspaperman with ties to the state are working to acquire Blethen Maine Newspapers, which includes the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.

Frank Blethen, chairman of Blethen Maine Newspapers, announced Wednesday that the company has signed a letter of intent with a group called Maine Media Investments. The agreement provides a limited, exclusive time period to negotiate terms of a sale.

Those negotiations are expected to begin as soon as possible, both sides said, but neither would disclose a timeline. They simply indicated that they hope to conclude the process quickly.

The Maine-based investor group consists of William S. Cohen, a former Maine senator and U. S. secretary of defense; businessman Robert Baldacci, brother of Maine Gov. John Baldacci; developer Michael Liberty; and Richard L. Connor, a Bangor native with 40 years of experience owning and operating newspapers.

Press Herald Publisher Charles Cochrane emphasized that the letter of intent does not mean the sale is a done deal.

''What this does is provide a window of time to work out the arrangements of the sale,'' he said.

During that time, the company agrees not to pursue sale negotiations with any other potential buyers.

''We are hoping to do this as quickly as we can,'' Cochrane said.

The Blethen Maine assets have been for sale since March, when parent company The Seattle Times said that declining revenue and outstanding debt made such a move necessary. Since then, the Portland paper has undergone two rounds of layoffs and cuts, with a new round scheduled for mid-August to compensate for a projected $1.2 million shortfall in advertising revenue.

Cochrane said the August layoffs could still happen.

A sale would affect employees at the Press Herald, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta and the Morning Sentinel in Waterville. Also included in any sale would be the Web site MaineToday.com; The Coastal Journal, a weekly newspaper in Bath; and a number of nondaily print publications.

In a prepared statement, Blethen said ''this locally-backed ownership group would provide a favorable outcome for the community, our readers, our employees and the Blethen family.''

He said a sale to this group likely would result in the most seamless and timely ownership transition.

Though there are other potential buyers, Blethen said they are not likely to move forward because of a disagreement over the Portland Newspaper Guild's contract at the Press Herald.

The union believes that a clause in the contract obligates a new owner to abide by terms of the existing deal; the newspaper company says that's not the case, and it filed suit against the union in U.S. District Court in Portland, asking a federal judge to either send the issue to arbitration or rule that a new owner is not required to honor the contract.

The union has sought dismissal of that suit.

Tom Bell, the guild's president, said the local investor group, which the union has had discussions with, looks promising.

He said newspaper employees might have the opportunity to participate in an employee stock plan under new ownership, giving them a vested interest in the success of the newspaper.

Bell also praised Blethen Maine Newspapers for ''taking a risk to do this'' and pursue local ownership with Maine Media.

''We've been told they want to run a professional newspaper,'' he said of the group.

Connor, who was born in Bangor, is editor and publisher of the Wilkes-Barre (Pa.) Times Leader.

''All of us are driven by our love of Maine and the chance to have local people and the employees of this company determine the future destiny of these newspapers in the state,'' Connor said in a prepared statement. ''We believe in Maine and we still believe in newspapers.''

Connor also said that his group intends ''to grow this media business.''

Cohen heads The Cohen Group, a Washington, D.C.-based group that provides global business consulting services. His son, Kevin, president of DoubleMan Media, is expected to join his father in the newspaper venture.

''We hope we can reach an agreement that allows us to continue the heritage of strong Maine journalism and public service to the communities served by these newspapers and to the state,'' William Cohen said in a statement.

Cochrane praised the local group, saying it is rooted in Maine and could provide stable ownership.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

dhoey@pressherald.com

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Additional Photos

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Staff Photo by Gordon Chibroski, Friday, December 16, 2005: (l. to r.)Dick McGoldrick, Michael Liberty, Arthur Girard, and Diane Doyle, local real estate professionals, enjoy the exclusive invite-only gathering to look at the new Westin Hotel project being developed by Liberty and his partners to be built on the property now occupied by the Jordan Meat Plant.

 


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