Media Mutt

Maine Newspapers Consolidate Printing

by Al Diamon

Ink flows south: On June 29, Bangor Publishing Co. announced it had reached a deal with Sun Media Group in Lewiston to take over most printing of the Bangor Daily News as of September. The new arrangement will result in the closing of Bangor Publishing’s Hampden printing plant and the loss of 27 jobs, although Sun Media says it will add an unspecified number of workers in Lewiston.

The move will save Bangor Publishing a significant amount of money and is part of a trend in the industry that’s seen newspaper companies with aging presses contract out their printing, rather than make investments in new equipment. Bangor’s Hampden facility was built in the late 1980s and needs extensive upgrades, an investment that’s difficult to justify when print circulation has slipped from 85,000 copies each day, when the plant was new, to just over 41,000 on weekdays, according to Alliance for Audited Media figures from earlier this year.

Sun Media, meanwhile, has a relatively new press. Even though it prints the company’s own daily paper, the Lewiston Sun Journal, its 10 weeklies and dozens of other publications, it has sufficient capacity to handle the Bangor paper, as well. Or almost. Some of the Bangor press run will be done by Alliance Press in Brunswick, the former printing plant of the Times Record afternoon daily. In addition, the BDN will print its papers for northern Maine at Northeast Publishing in Presque Isle, a subsidiary that owns several weeklies.

Assuming all the distribution glitches get worked out, the change shouldn’t be noticeable to readers, at least in the short term. But over a longer period of time, Bangor’s decision not to do its own printing would seem to indicate that the company sees online products as being much more significant in its future than the traditional printed paper.

The Bangor Daily already has story-sharing agreements with some Sun Media papers, including the Sun Journal and the Forecaster weeklies.

Just because you have a big press doesn’t make you a newspaper: The July 1 Sun Journal didn’t have a single staff-produced story on its front page. No local editorial or columns on the opinion page. No enterprise reporting on the business page. Not even a self-generated sports piece. It did have some less-than-earthshaking stuff from its own reporters in the local section, a few Associated Press stories and a lot of articles from the Bangor Daily. Which made it look more like a news aggregator than a real news organization.

Correction: Sharp-eyed reader Craig Friedrich caught a mistake I made last week, when I wrote that the new 5.5 percent sales tax on newspaper and magazines takes effect in July. The tax, included in the recently passed state budget, actually won’t start hitting consumers until Oct. 1.

Speaking of which: The story behind that new tax has been notable by its absence from Maine’s print media, but a hint at what was really going on showed up in the June 30 Maine Sunday Telegram. Staff writers Michael Shepherd and Matt Byrne produced a piece on the impact of the new budget.

Buried inside it was this intriguing tidbit…

“Earl Brechlin, editor of the Mount Desert Islander and president of the Maine Press Association, a newspaper trade group that the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram and sister papers belong to, called the repeal of the exemption ‘unfortunate.’ But, he said, the association accepted the tax change in exchange for keeping state public notices in print newspapers, an important revenue stream for the industry.”

Shepherd and Byrne may not have been around when the public notices issue came up in the past, so that might explain why they didn’t catch the inconsistency here. In previous attempts by the governor and Legislature to end the costly practice of printing notices almost no one reads in dozens of Maine publications, the newspaper industry has always claimed the practice should be continued not because of the money the papers make, but because it’s an important service to the public.

Considering that the percentage of Mainers who have access to the Internet — where the notices are readily available — far exceeds the number that read print papers, that argument was sort of ridiculous. It’s good to see the real reason put forward at last.

Explosive numbers: For a stunning example of the difference between basing a news story on anecdotes and one founded on data, check out this piece on fireworks sales in Maine in the June 27 Advertiser Democrat. It claims the public, at least in Oxford County, is buying fewer skyrockets and the like, because that’s what dealers and police officers told the reporter. A July 1 AP story, based on actual sales tax revenue, shows the opposite is true.

There’s probably a lesson there somewhere.

Jumping to the wrong conclusion: Headline in the June 28 Sun Journal over an AP story about the Legislature’s rush to adjournment: “Lawmakers hurdle toward finish line”

The editor apparently found some hurtles between cliché and clarity.

Al Diamon can be emailed at

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