Senior editors at the Press Herald’s afternoon news meeting Monday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

A national nonprofit plans to take over ownership of five of Maine’s six daily newspapers as part of a landmark deal that could help preserve local news across the state.

The National Trust for Local News has entered into an agreement to purchase the Portland Press Herald and all of the other assets of Masthead Maine, with a closing date in late July, Reade Brower, owner of Masthead Maine, and Elizabeth Hansen Shapiro, chief executive officer and co-founder of the trust, said in interviews Monday.

“This is the most independent route I think I could have taken that maintains both the independence of the press and continuity for staff and readers,” Brower said. “I believe they want to continue to run this as a sustainable business, which I like, and I don’t believe they will try and drain resources, which I like.”

Neither Brower nor Hansen Shapiro would disclose the sale price, saying terms of the deal are confidential.

Besides the Press Herald, the deal includes the Sun Journal in Lewiston, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, the Morning Sentinel in Waterville, the Times Record in Brunswick and 17 weekly papers in southern and western Maine, including the Forecaster group.

Press Herald editors discuss the day’s top stories at their afternoon news conference. Clockwise from left: Web Editor Katherine Lee, Copy Desk Chief Steve Ericson, Sports Editor Don Coulter, Executive Editor Steve Greenlee and Deputy Managing Editor John Richardson. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer



Many details of what the sale will mean for day-to-day operations are still being worked out, though Hansen Shapiro said the papers will continue to be managed by Masthead Maine Chief Executive Officer Lisa DeSisto and her staff.

“Our overall framework and set of values is that local news is really critical to communities being able to hang together and function well,” Hansen Shapiro said.

“We have an overall set of principles and strategies for sustainability and for enhancing the quality of local service, but all the details of what that means for the papers is really something we’re going to be working closely with Lisa on and working with community members on.”

DeSisto said Monday that she is pleased with the sale to the National Trust. “I couldn’t imagine a better outcome for the future of our newspapers, our employees and the state of journalism in Maine,” she said.

Masthead Maine has about 400 full- and part-time employees. DeSisto said employee benefits will continue unchanged through the end of the year while more details of what the sale will mean are worked out.

“If you look at what they’re all about, which is conserving, sustaining, transforming local news, that says to me that our commitment, especially on the hyper-local level, will be enhanced,” DeSisto said.


The trust also has said that it will recognize the four labor unions representing Masthead employees and will honor their contracts. Union leaders said they are trying to learn more about the trust but are optimistic about the future.

“We are grateful that Reade Brower chose to pursue a nonprofit business model rather than sell his companies to the bad actors that have decimated news organizations across the country,” the executive board of the News Guild of Maine said in a statement after news of the sale broke Monday afternoon.

“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 Guild represents nearly 200 workers at the Portland Press Herald and Morning Sentinel. Its executive board said it also will seek a meeting with the National Trust so its members can understand more about what the change will mean for employees.

Steve Greenlee, executive editor of the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram, also is optimistic about the sale.

“This is the ideal outcome for us, and it’s an amazing opportunity,” Greenlee said. “Those of us who devote our lives to journalism do it to serve the public good, and now our business model will support that mission entirely. This may be the most important moment in the history of Maine journalism.”


Sports Editor Don Coulter, left, and Executive Editor Steve Greenlee in Monday afternoon’s news meeting at the Press Herald.  Derek Davis/Staff Photographer


The trust, founded in 2021, is a nonprofit whose mission is providing long-term sustainability for local news sources. It also owns a chain of 24 community newspapers, all part of the Colorado News Conservancy, in suburban Denver.

The agreement to buy the Maine newspapers comes during a challenging economic landscape for newspapers nationwide.

A study last year from Northwestern University’s journalism school found that more than 2,500 newspapers in the United States have gone out of business since 2005, including 360 since right before the pandemic in early 2020.

In places where papers have survived, many have made deep staff cuts.

Some newspapers – particularly larger dailies such as The New York Times and The Washington Post – have been able to counter the loss of advertising revenue through a robust surge in digital subscriptions.


Smaller newspapers have moved toward that model as well, but their markets are more limited.

The Press Herald has seen its print circulation decline steadily in recent years, but the number of digital subscribers has increased as more people consume news on their computers, tablets and smartphones. Total daily circulation, including digital subscriptions, is currently just under 38,000.

Media observers had worried in the weeks leading up to Monday’s announcement about the possible sale of the Maine newspapers to a national corporate chain that might take aggressive cost-cutting measures as has been done other places around the country, said Dan Kennedy, a journalism professor at Northeastern University who studies the future of local news.

And while many details are still unknown, Kennedy said the sale to the National Trust appears to be a positive step. “I definitely think it’s good news for people in Maine, whether you work for one of these papers or read one of these papers,” Kennedy said.

“This deal promises to preserve these papers, and maybe even lead to growth and expansion somewhere down the line. It’s also interesting and encouraging to see that the National Trust for Local News continues to do good work in saving legacy newspapers.”

Brower said Monday that there were “multiple other avenues I could have pursued” for the sale of the newspapers but declined to say what other entities specifically may have made offers.


He is not completely offloading all of his media holdings, and will continue to own several community and weekly newspapers in midcoast and Down East Maine, including the Ellsworth American, Mount Desert Islander and Courier-Gazette in Rockland, that are not part of Masthead Maine.

As part of the National Trust, Hansen Shapiro said the dailies and other weeklies will continue to operate as a business with revenue coming from ads and subscriptions. But the nonprofit ownership also will make the papers eligible for philanthropic support.

“It adds the potential for a different kind of investment and support than in other formats, which is a really important part of long-term sustainability,” she said.


Soon after Brower said in late March that he was exploring selling his media holdings, retired Press Herald columnist Bill Nemitz announced the formation of the Maine Journalism Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to sustaining local news in Maine.

Nemitz is president of the foundation, whose board of directors also includes Bill Burke, former Weather Channel companies CEO and Portland Sea Dogs co-owner, and Emily Barr, an Associated Press board member and former president and CEO of Graham Media Group who recently retired to Cape Elizabeth.


Nemitz said Monday that he was “absolutely thrilled” about Brower’s sale to the National Trust for Local News.

He would not say how much money the foundation has raised, citing a non-disclosure agreement, but said the foundation received “substantial donations, large and small, from people all over Maine” in its own campaign to try and purchase Brower’s papers.

He said the foundation realized in late May, however, that it would likely come up short in that effort.

“We were in the process of rethinking our mission and looking for other options when we were put in contact with the National Trust and very quickly started working with them,” Nemitz said.

The foundation is continuing to work with the National Trust, and Hansen Shapiro said more details are to come as to what the long-term relationship between the two will be.

“This is a huge celebration for them as well and they’ve been right by our side since the moment we got into this,” Hansen Shapiro said. “We’re super grateful for their collaboration and support.”

In the meantime, the foundation said in an email to supporters Monday that their donations will be used to help fund the sale of Masthead Maine to the National Trust.

“More details will be forthcoming in the days and weeks ahead on the operating structure of the new nonprofit entity,” the email said. “Until then, rest assured that the future for local news in Maine has never been brighter.”

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