Press Herald sale - who would buy?

UPDATE: With Crosscut Seattle story link (also here). Definitely read that story - it has great analysis and some new ideas of who might buy the papers - including a possibility of the union taking it employee-owned.

Yesterday's announcement that the Portland Press Herald and the rest of the Blethen Maine Newspaper group are up for sale has a lot of attention in the expected arenas.

The Press Herald has a story here. The Seattle Times has a story here. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer's story is here. I'm told Crosscut Seattle will have a story later today (UPDATE: It does, and that must-read story is here.) (and I'll post an update to this story when it's live).

The PressingTheHerald blog (which I wrote about in the latest issue of the Phoenix) has declared an end to its six-day-old "Blethen Maine Death Watch," and "T. Cushing Munjoy" has resumed buying the paper, only to find that he and Frank Blethen agree on something - that the Blethens will be lucky to recoup half of the $200-million-plus purchase price they paid for the Maine papers in 1998.

Even PortlandPressHarried's "T. Flushing Funjoy" is digging around, unearthing the Blethens' corporate memos and exec-speak from five years ago and ten years ago.

But nobody has addressed what appears to be a clear fact, which doesn't bode well for the papers' future: The Blethens likely have no prospective buyers.

Most businesses, and particularly privately-owned ones, don't generally announce that parts of their companies are "for sale." They announce that they have been sold, complete with answers to the "who bought it" and "when do they take over," even if not the "how much did they overpay" questions, and reassuring quotes about the future.

Not so this time - the Blethens have basically said, "We need to get rid of these companies - would anyone like to make us an offer?" They have also engaged the services of a major newspaper brokerage company, the New Mexico-based Dirks, Van Essen & Murray, which again suggests they have no idea who might buy the papers.

We know from my story on the impending sale of the Press Herald back in 2006 that some of Maine's big players aren't interested, and they've likely gotten even less so. The Bangor Daily News has laid off workers since then, and while the Lewiston Sun Journal has been expanding, their merger-and-acquisition people seem to be focused on weeklies, rather than dailies. Maybe the Sample Group, who own the Biddeford Journal-Tribune and just bought the Brunswick Times-Record, would be interested, but they just laid off people at the Times-Record, only days after begging the state for a loan they said would allow them to keep the newspaper operating.

Who's left? It's anybody's guess - even the Blethens don't have any ideas.
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