Media Mutt

Who Owns MaineToday Media?

by Al Diamon

Minority muddle: The 25 percent of MaineToday Media that isn’t owned by hedge-fund manager S. Donald Sussman has been shrouded in mystery for many months. All the company — which publishes the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel dailies — has publicly admitted is that developer Robert C.S. Monks is no longer one of its minority owners, although he still sits on some sort of advisory committee (of which the remaining membership is a mystery). Now, three sources at MaineToday have provided some insight into who controls that dark quarter of the operation.

The News Guild of Maine, the largest union at MTM, owns most of the remaining shares, according to all the sources, but none of them was sure of the exact percentage. The remainder of the company is tied up in what one source called, “some mess with creditors from the Connor days.”

Richard Connor, the former MaineToday CEO who was ousted in October 2011, left behind a company mired in debts and teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. That it’s taken Sussman, reputed to be a billionaire, so long to straighten out MTM’s finances speaks volumes about the mismanagement during the Connor era. But it still doesn’t explain why the company is so reluctant to reveal its full ownership structure, something that even many of its employees claim not to know.

We’re busy, so write your own news: On July 20, the Bangor Daily News got the word out in a hurry that Rick Bennett had been chosen as the new chairman of the Maine Republican Party. Rather than wait for a reporter to sort out the facts, it simply posted a press release from the GOP verbatim on its website.

Apparently the weekend web editor was in such a rush that he or she didn’t even bother to label the posting as party propaganda, making it appear to be a news story without a byline.

This isn’t the first time (or the second — or the tenth) the BDN has made a mistake like this. What’s amazing is that it keeps happening.

Reporter and participant: Gina Hamilton– the journalist who already spans the broad gaps between writing allegedly objective news stories, producing opinionated weekly columns and editing a liberal website — has taken on yet another role: community activist. According to a video of the July 19 Planning Board meeting posted on the city of Bath’s website (the relevant material is 136 minutes, 7 seconds into the proceedings), Hamilton went beyond her role as a journalist covering the event and became a participant. She testified during a public hearing on a measure to change zoning rules for soup kitchens. Then, she wrote a story about the meetingfor the next afternoon’s paper in which she made no mention of that issue or her advocacy.

It could be argued that since Hamilton didn’t cover the soup-kitchen issue, she didn’t cross the boundary between reporter and participant. But that would be disingenuous. In the first place, board members were aware she was there gathering information for an article. Expressing an opinion on a matter before the group had to call her objectivity into question in their minds. In addition, even though her story on July 17 didn’t touch on the subject of her testimony, there’s no assurance she won’t be called upon to cover that issue in the future.

In short, a reporter getting involved in the proceedings he or she is supposed to be covering presents the appearance of conflict of interest. Even a rookie reporter should know better.

Radio non-ratings: I keep getting questions about radio ratings for Maine stations, but I’m afraid I have only a little information. Arbitron, the company that compiles the numbers, refuses to release figures for any stations that don’t buy its services. In this state, that’s most of them. But since you asked, the latest (semi-worthless) reports were released last week for the Augusta-Waterville market and the Bangor area.

In Portland, where four companies paid for the ratings book, the figures offer a veiled glimpse of who’s popular (WJBQ) and who’s not (WBQX). But without any mention of the Saga Communications stations and several others in the market, it’s impossible to say who’s really number one.

The next Nance: The Maine Public Broadcasting Network made it clear last week that it intends to continue airing classical music programming after the departure next month of “Morning Classical” host Suzanne Nance.

There had been speculation, fueled by comments from MPBN president Mark Vogelzang, that news and public affairs shows might fill Nance’s slot once she headed for a new radio gig in Chicago. MPBN’s morning and afternoon news blocks have traditionally pulled high ratings, while its music shows have lagged far behind. But classical listeners contribute a disproportionately large share of money to the network, and Vogelzang was quick to reassure them that a nationwide search would be launched for a new host who’d be in charge not only of the on-air music, but also of efforts to start a separate station for classical programming.

It’ll be interesting to see how a cash-strapped outfit like MPBN could possibly accomplish such an ambitious goal.

After the fall: If anybody cares what happened to the two former TV anchors at Bangor’s WVII, who created a major stir when they resigned on the air last November, Bangor Daily News reporter Nick Sambides Jr. has an update in the July 22 paper.

Al Diamon can be emailed at

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