Media Mutt

Maine Newspaper Circulation: It Just Keeps Getting Worse

by Al Diamon

Ugly numbers: New newspaper circulation figures from the Alliance for Audited Media (formerly the Audit Bureau of Circulations) were released on April 30, and if there’s anything positive in them for Maine dailies, I couldn’t find it.

The Portland Press Herald remained the state’s daily circulation leader, but not by much. For the six months ending March 30, the Press Herald averaged 42,830 copies sold per day, barely ahead of the Bangor Daily News’ 41,458. The Portland paper’s sales were down 9.5 percent from a year ago (4,496 average loss per day), its steepest decline in at least five years. Since 2008, the Press Herald has seen 34 percent of its print readers vanish.

The decline isn’t being made up online. AAM reports Portland’s daily digital users slipped from 44,358 in March 2012 to 41,628 in 2013. Overall, the Press Herald had 1,627,112 unique users of its website and trails the Bangor paper in that category by more than 200,000.

The Maine Sunday Telegram print edition fared even worse. Telegram circulation had been held nearly steady from 2011 to 2012 by special offers that allowed subscribers to receive it for as little as a dollar a year. With the end of those deals, the numbers from last March to this dropped off 13 percent (nearly 10,000 copies per week) to 66,065.

The Bangor Daily News did better than the Portland papers, but better wasn’t very good. Weekday sales fell an average of 3,722 copies, or 8.2 percent, far worse than the 4.5 percent decline the previous year. On weekends, the paper lost an average of 4,599 customers each Saturday, down 8.7 percent to 48,096. In the past five years, the Bangor Daily has shed a quarter of its print readers. The report didn’t provide figures for daily online readership.

The Kennebec Journal in Augusta took a 9.7 percent hit daily (9,740, down from 10,792) and a 10.7 percent loss on Sunday (10,129, from 11,343). The Morning Sentinel in Waterville saw its numbers shrivel by over 9 percent (13,922 daily circulation last year, down to 12,643 in 2013; on Sunday, the figures went from 14,029 to 12,746). No long-term loss statistics are available for these papers because for several years, they didn’t submit their figures to AAM. There are also no current numbers for Maine’s other daily papers – the Lewiston Sun Journal, Times Record in Brunswick and Journal Tribune in Biddeford – because they no longer use AAM’s services.

To put the Maine circulation numbers in some perspective, for the 593 daily papers in the United States audited by AAM, the average decline was .7 percent. For the 519 weekend or Sunday papers, sales were off 1.4 percent. Digital editions now make up 19.3 percent of all circulation, up from 14.2 percent a year ago.

Second opinion: The Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram have begun to repair some of the damage done to their editorial pages by the recession and former CEO Richard Connor. In the April 28 Telegram, editorial page editor Greg Kesich announced he now has an assistant editor. Sarah Collins, a former copy editor at the Press Herald and Kennebec Journal, is now helping Kesich churn out opinions for the MaineToday Media newspapers.

In October 2011, MTM cut the editorial-page staff in Portland from three to one to save money. The ed-page editor at sister publications the Kennebec Journal in Augusta and the Morning Sentinel in Waterville had resigned in 2009 and was never replaced, leaving those papers to slog along with a mix of opinions generated in Portland and stuff from out-of-state papers.

Now that Portland is rebuilding, fixing that mess ought to be a high priority for the current deep-pockets ownership.

Working on the weekend: A shocking rarity for the Lewiston Sun Journal on April 28. Instead of the usual ration of one local news story of substance in the entire Sunday paper, the SJ managed three quality pieces (check them out here and here and here) on its front page alone, a level of enterprise not seen in five years or more.

Let’s hope this sudden journalistic surge isn’t a fluke.

(I wrote the above item on April 29. On April 30, the Sun Journal was so flummoxed by covering a big fire in downtown Lewiston that it filled most of its news hole in its early editions with excessively large photos of the disaster that conveyed little information. It also managed to get the page numbers in its front section wrong.)

Down East goes down south: Down East Enterprises (former home of this blog) keeps getting smaller. The publisher of Down East magazine announced last week that it has sold off its book division to Rowman & Littlefield of Maryland, which has distributed Down East’s books for a decade.

The book company will continue to be based in Maine, according to the official statement, and nothing major will change. But isn’t that what they always say?

TCM checks in: Scarcely a week goes by that someone doesn’t ask me what’s become of pseudonymous blogger Thomas Cushing Munjoy, the acerbic and insightful critic of the Maine media in general and the Portland Press Herald in particular. Last year, Munjoy announced he planned a new blog, but health problems intervened, and he’s been silent for many months. He’s now feeling much better and couldn’t resist last week’s news that MaineToday Media’s former CEO, Richard Connor, had been accused of misappropriating over $500,000 from the company.

Munjoy, who’s living well out of state, e-mailed to say he rarely reads the Press Herald these days, but, “I did send an email today to [D]ick … telling him that I am very much enjoying his well deserved and predictable travails.”

He also reminded me of the gushing coverage Connor received from some local reporters, much of which looks, in retrospect, pretty clueless.

Put a rubber nose on the copy editor, too: The first sentence of a front-page story by staff writer Douglas McIntire in the April 29 Lewiston Sun Journal:

“Maine state Sen. Margaret Craven responded Sunday to claims by Republicans she was making a ‘mockery’ of a serious Department of Health and Human Services bill by donning a clown nose, along with Sen. Colleen Lachowicz on Wednesday.”

I can excuse the nose, but donning Lachowicz seems excessive.

Al Diamon can be emailed at

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