An effort is under way to transfer the Portland Press Herald and many other newspapers in Maine to nonprofit ownership. Michele McDonald/Photo Editor

The owner of the Portland Press Herald and most of Maine’s other daily newspapers says he is considering selling them to a new nonprofit devoted to supporting journalism in the state.

Reade Brower announced in a March 30 letter to employees that he is exploring ways to transition from being the sole steward of Masthead Maine, the entity that owns the Press Herald, four other daily newspapers and 25 weeklies across the state, by either selling the company or taking on new partners.

On Sunday, retired Portland Press Herald columnist Bill Nemitz announced in a column that the newly formed Maine Journalism Foundation is launching a campaign to raise at least $15 million to purchase and operate Brower’s newspapers and to invest in other journalism initiatives in Maine. Nemitz is the president of the Maine Journalism Foundation.

Brower, 66, said he knew the announcement was coming and has had preliminary discussions with the Maine Journalism Foundation.

“They were asking if I was open to looking at that as an alternative,” he said. “I am open to considering this because I’m looking at all the paths that I see that are financially viable.

“My goal is just to find the next steward and that’s looking at what is feasible and then what I think is most sustainable and the best outcome for readers, employees and the community,” Brower added.


Brower purchased MaineToday Media, the parent company of the Press Herald, the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel, from financier S. Donald Sussman in 2015. Two years later Brower added Sun Media Group, which includes the Lewiston Sun Journal and several weekly newspapers. In 2018 he purchased the Times Record in Brunswick and the since-shuttered Biddeford Journal Tribune.

Reade Brower

If Masthead Maine were to transition from a privately-owned company to ownership by a nonprofit, it would continue a trend over the past decade or so of news agencies opting for a nonprofit model. Among the most notable newspapers to be run as nonprofits are the Salt Lake Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times and Philadelphia Inquirer.


The Maine Journalism Foundation launched its website and donation push on Sunday. Registered in Maine as a nonprofit public benefit corporation, the foundation is applying to the Internal Revenue Service to gain 501(c)3 charitable status. The Michigan-based Local Media Foundation is serving as the group’s fiscal agent to allow it to begin accepting tax-deductible donations.

Nemitz said the foundation does not have any big-money donors committed yet, “but we are having discussions. Contacts are being made. Outreach is being made. We’re at the point where we’re going public to get this moving.”

Nemitz said the group has set the goal of $15 million based on its due diligence to assess the value of the Masthead properties.


The honorary campaign chair is Portland philanthropist Maddy Corson, who was chair of Guy Gannett Communications, the former parent company of the Press Herald and Central Maine newspapers, from 1994 to 1998. For decades, Corson has been a catalyst for extensive philanthropic commitment throughout the state.

Nemitz is joined on the three-person board of directors by Bill Burke, former Weather Channel companies CEO and Portland Sea Dogs co-owner, and Emily Barr, an Associated Press board member who recently retired to Cape Elizabeth. Barr most recently was the president and CEO of Graham Media Group, which ran seven television stations, all in top-70 markets.

Formal negotiations between Brower and the Maine Journalism Foundation have not taken place.

“I would say he’s very interested and positive,” Nemitz said. “I don’t want to give the impression that he supports us over another potential buyer, but he’s had a very open mind of what we’re trying to do.”

Nemitz said he does not know what Brower’s asking price is for the Masthead properties. Brower did not respond to a request for that information.

“We’re nowhere near the formal-offer stage at this point,” Nemitz said. “We’re basing our fundraising on what we think is feasible and what we think it would take to get this done.”


To do that, the foundation must generate community support that translates into donations.

“I think they’re going to have to show a commitment that they can raise the funds needed to acquire the newspapers and to show that the community supports this direction,” said Lisa DeSisto, CEO of Masthead Maine.

The overall size of Brower’s newsgathering businesses has remained relatively stable, especially compared to staff reductions that have gutted local news coverage in many communities across the country. According to a 2022 study by Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, a fifth of the U.S. population lives in a county with either no newspaper or at high risk of losing its local news source.

“I think Maine has been extremely fortunate, and the reason for that most recently is Reade Brower,” Nemitz said. “He’s maintained these papers under independent ownership.”


Masthead Maine owns little to no real estate. The Press Herald’s office and printing facility in South Portland was sold by Brower and is now leased back to the newspaper.


“There’s not a lot of real estate. I don’t think there’s any,” Brower said. “I came in here to build a sustainable company, which I think I’ve done, and that included creating flexibility. I didn’t want to be in the real estate business. I wanted to be in the print business.”

The lack of real estate assets lessens the likelihood that a large chain would find Masthead Maine an appealing target, said Dan Kennedy, a journalism professor at Northeastern University.

Media giants like Gannett Company and Alden Global have become notorious for buying once-thriving newspapers – big and small – and then selling off assets while gutting newsroom capacity.

Were the Masthead properties to be bought by such a company, “that would be a disaster,” Kennedy said, “because what they do is they don’t care about the news product, they don’t care about community. They just start cutting to squeeze out the last revenues they can before they get out of town.”

The looming threat of such a takeover – and a strong desire to maintain local ownership – are reasons to get behind the Maine Journalism Foundation and support the idea of nonprofit, local ownership, said Press Herald Executive Editor Steve Greenlee.

“Going nonprofit would be a transformative move for us. We would be an entirely mission-based organization, driven solely by the desire to inform Maine’s citizens and hold the powerful accountable,” Greenlee said. “Over the past 10 years, we’ve managed to avoid the sorts of draconian cuts that have eviscerated newsrooms across the country. Not only do I want to see that continue in perpetuity, but I want to be able to put new resources into our journalism and expand on the great work we’re already doing.”


The News Guild of Maine, which represents nearly 200 workers at the Press Herald and Morning Sentinel in Waterville, also is supportive of the effort, at least in concept.

“We believe in local ownership for local news,” the guild’s executive board said in a statement. “We see the formation of the Maine Journalism Foundation as a good-faith effort led by people who know our state and have the knowledge to develop a sustainable business model.”


Several hundred nonprofit news organizations have formed over the past 10 to 20 years. Most are online-only organizations created to fill a niche need or to step in where traditional newspapers have closed or been gutted. The online news outlets range from the Pulitzer Prize-winning ProPublica to tiny citizen-based journalism websites that resemble blog posts.

The less common but slowly increasing trend is for traditional for-profit newspapers to transition to nonprofit ownership. The Institute for Nonprofit News reported that among its more than 400 members, six smaller news outlets have moved to nonprofit ownership since 2020.

In Salt Lake, the Tribune was declared a nonprofit in 2019 and recently announced its intention to add reporting staff. In 2022 the Chicago Sun-Times was purchased by Chicago Public Media after the broadcast station raised $61 million, which included significant donations from well-known national foundations like the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. On a smaller scale, the Denton (Texas) Record-Chronicle was acquired by KERA public radio in Dallas. In those cases, the news outlets and the ownership groups are both now nonprofits.


Then there is the example of the Philadelphia Inquirer, which was gifted to a nonprofit foundation by its owner but operates as a for-profit beneficial corporation (also known as a B Corp).

Carlos Barrionuevo has worked at both major daily newspapers and National Public Radio and now is a director of Public Media Company, a consulting firm focused on media conversions to nonprofit status. He was a key architect of the Sun-Times purchase and is a consulting adviser for the Maine Journalism Foundation.

A passionate believer in the necessity of having local news coverage to help build an informed an active community, Barrionuevo said Maine is fortunate to have so much locally-owned media, which include Maine Public and the Bangor Daily News.

If Masthead Maine converts to a nonprofit model it would “be one of the bigger” transitions that have occurred “because of the multiple papers, the nearly statewide reach and frankly that the paper is still in pretty good shape,” said Barrionuevo, who lives in Georgetown.

“There are different (nonprofit) structures, but the main goal is to serve the community with an ownership structure that can ensure it will be in place for years to come,” Barrionuevo said.

Brower, meanwhile, said he plans to be deliberate when considering a potential buyer.

“This is an open process for me, and I take it very seriously,” Brower said. “To get more specific, I can’t. This is a process that’s going to take a while to figure out. To figure out what’s out there because I really don’t know. Luckily over the last month things like (the Maine Journalism Foundation) have been coming out.”

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