Media Mutt

Portland Phoenix Survives the Boston Burnout

by Al Diamon

And then there were two: The Phoenix Media/Communications Group once included alternative weeklies in Boston, Worcester, Providence and Portland, as well as a lifestyle publication, a string of radio stations and associated printing businesses. With the March 14 announcement by owner and publisher Stephen Mindich that the Boston publication, reconfigured six months ago as a glossy magazine, had put out its last issue, his empire is down to just the Portland and Providence versions of the Phoenix, its Massachusetts-based printing operation and a custom publishing unit.

Mindich, in a statement released to the media, blamed the shutdown on poor advertising revenue, saying the Boston operation was “no longer sustainable.” But he said the same factors weren’t affecting Portland and Providence as strongly. “Because of their smaller scale of operations and because we believe they remain meaningful publications to their communities, with some necessary changes to each, it is our intent to keep the Providence and Portland Phoenixes operating and to do so for as long as they remain financially viable,” Mindich’s statement said.

Although rumors of financial turmoil at Phoenix headquarters have been circulating for the past two years, the shutdown appeared to take all involved by surprise. Portland Phoenix editor Jeff Inglis said he did not know what effect, if any, the closing would have on his operation. “I don’t expect to see changes in the Portland Phoenix,” Inglis said, “but details aren’t likely to emerge for some time.”

Peter Kadzis, executive editor of all Phoenix publications, responded to questions about the Portland paper’s future in an e-mail. Kadzis said, “[T]here may well be some [changes] down the road. But at the moment, I can’t think of any.”

He said he’d be in Portland on March 15 to discuss the future with staff. Kadzis’ own job – he’s been with the company for 25 years – is being eliminated.

As for rumors that the Portland and Providence papers would be sold off, both Kadzis and several industry sources said that was unlikely to happen. “Not in the foreseeable future,” Kadzis said. “We just sold off our flagship, so if we were going to sell off the rest we’d have done it by now.”

A publishing insider said Mindich still has the resources to maintain the two papers and is famously stubborn about giving up on even losing propositions, having underwritten his radio stations and Boston publications long after they’d begun bleeding red ink. “I think he’ll lick his wounds for a while before making any moves,” the source said.

Disclosure: My weekly political column runs in the Portland Phoenix.

I got stoned and I missed it: On March 10, the MaineToday Media newspapers scooped the competition by reporting the state was investigating the medical marijuana cultivation facility in Auburn run by Wellness Connection of Maine. Details were scarce, but Wellness Connection had closed its four dispensaries in the state last week, reopening them a few days later. The piece left plenty of room for follow-up.

The Lewiston Sun Journal was badly beaten on a story in its own backyard. And it stayed badly beaten for three days. The Sun Journal didn’t get around to publishing its own piece until March 12. It cleverly used a headline and first sentence that said the investigation was “continuing,” thereby giving the impression it had mentioned it before. But it hadn’t. And even worse, it was able to uncover exactly no new information about what was going on.

This is not a story with limited sources. State officials, local cops and the pot facility’s staff are all involved. A good reporter should have had little problem getting somebody to talk. In fact, there’s no excuse for failing to do so.

Neither MaineToday nor the Lewiston paper has bothered to print anything more as of March 15, so there’s still an opportunity for somebody to practice a little journalism. But I won’t hold my breath.

Front-page non-news: On March 15, the Portland Press Herald decided a story on how Gov. Paul LePage’s communications director contacted conservative TV and radio shows seeking coverage of his tough stand on concealed-weapons permits was worthy of running on page one above the fold.

Since everybody in politics does this sort of thing all the time, it’s tough to figure why it would merit a news story at all, although I guess a feature on the behind-the-scenes maneuvering might have some interest. However, such an article ought to include several examples from across the political spectrum, rather than focusing on a single incident involving LePage.

This questionable editorial decision makes the Press Herald look biased against the governor, thereby lending credibility to right-wing attacks on the paper.

Dress for the press: Bad enough that members of the news media made fools of themselves chasing accused prostitute Alexis Wright down Portland streets on March 13, after she emerged from the Cumberland County Courthouse. Wright and her lawyer had reportedly been engaged in plea-bargain negotiations.

Wright ignored the frothing pack of cameras and recorders, but the pursuit wasn’t for nothing. Most of the reporters used the opportunity to assess what she had on.

Wright was “wearing a skirt beneath a knee-length, light colored coat and matching scarf,” according to the Portland Press Herald’s Scott Dolan.

The Associated Press had her in a “cream-colored coat and white high heels.”

That’s disputed in the account by Jennifer Feals of the York County Coast Star, who said she was “wearing a beige peacoat, black stockings and beige heels.”

None of these stories bothers to explain why Wright’s fashion decisions, which appear to be well within the bounds of the ordinary, are of sufficient importance to be included in the coverage. None mentions how anyone else involved in the negotiations was dressed. Unless Wright was naked (given testimony in an earlier trial, not entirely out of the question) or costumed in some bizarre manner, the way she was clothed was irrelevant to the story.

If members of the media mob insist on writing about her duds, perhaps they should ditch their feeble efforts at court coverage and pursue careers in fashion reporting.

Al Diamon can be emailed at

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