president/publisher Frank Blethen (still the owner of the Portland Press
Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal, and the Central Maine
Morning Sentinel, though not for long) found himself in some sort of mind warp
earlier today, according to a story on Editor & Publisher's Web site.
Blethen was arguing
not for family ownership of newspapers, as he has done for decades, but,
suddenly, for local ownership, even saying saying he would "rather have a
crummy paper owned locally than a supposedly good paper owned in
Of course, he was
referring to his family's flagship property in Seattle, where he and almost the
entire Blethen family lives. But think about that statement in relation to the
papers the family owns in Maine.
There has been plenty
of fire directed at the Press Herald and the Blethens in general since they
bought the paper 10 years ago, for being absentee owners, for being
disconnected, for bringing in non-Mainers to run the place. But the Blethens
and their proxies in Maine have always defended themselves by saying family
ownership was best, and harping on the Blethens' commitment to strong
Now, though, the
patriarch of the family is reversing himself, and admitting at least the
possibility that a "crummy" owner who is local would do better than a
"supposedly good" owner elsewhere.
Of course, he has
already put the Maine papers up for sale. And the Maine papers have laid off
people (though not nearly as many as the Seattle Times just did). And the Press
Herald's newsstand price went up 25 percent a couple weeks back, from 60 cents
to 75, in the same week the paper slashed the space allocated to news.
So perhaps Blethen is
trying to have it both ways, becoming a "crummy" owner-from-away, and
hoping that a "supposedly good" local owner will spring up. We shall see.
In other Seattle
Times/Blethen/Press Herald news:
-City editor Andrew
Russell (or whatever his new title is) announced at the end of March (in his
only blog post of the month) that the newsroom is being reorganized, away from
the "traditional" beat structure, where a reporter has a subject-area
of expertise, like city politics, or public safety. Word is that the ideas
being batted around leave out a few things we might think are important. We're
still seeking specifics on that, and will get back to you when we've got 'em.
-Frank Blethen will
step down from his post as the top man at the Seattle Times in 2015. Of course,
by then, no Mainers will care, because he won't have been involved in
newspapers here for seven years (if all goes according to his plan to sell the
Maine papers by the end of this year). But when the Seattle Times is on the
run, they're really on the run - laying off people, selling papers, and even
their fearless leader is planning an exit strategy. It doesn't help things that
he apparently believes (having told E&P so, anyway) that by the time he's
done, "we will have the difficult part out of the way." Surely
nothing could happen between now and then to surprise anyone.
-The good folks at
Crosscut Seattle, whom I will stretch and call my
colleagues-in-fascination-with-all-things-Blethen, have put out a really fascinating four-part
series of the financial crisis facing the Seattle Times. (Here are Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.) As I mentioned above,
much of this won't matter to us Mainers, though some of it may have a bearing
on the price the Blethens seek (or get) for the Maine publications. But there
is one parallel I found interesting, though not really surprising: The Seattle
Times's coverage territory once expanded well into the suburbs and met many
news consumers' needs for daily information. But when faced with budget
problems, the Times contracted, leaving unmet demand behind. Sound familiar?