New Press Herald owner speaks out on plans for newspapers

A headline from a previous sale of the MaineToday newspapers | BDN photo

A headline from a previous sale of the MaineToday newspapers | BDN photo

It was announced this week that Reade Brower, owner of the Free Press and the Courier chain of newspapers in the Midcoast, would be buying the MaineToday newspapers, including the Portland Press Herald, Maine Sunday Telegram, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel, from current majority owner S. Donald Sussman.

“We are focused on a smooth transition and pledge to continue the tradition of excellence that has been re-established,” Brower said in a statement.

Now, in his latest column on the Village Soup website (behind a paywall) he has elaborated on his plans for the newspaper chain.

“The short answer is that, by agreeing to take over the Portland, Augusta and Waterville dailies, we have agreed to continue in the direction of watchdog journalism and fair and objective reporting that Sussman enabled as owner of the MaineToday papers,” writes Brower.

Brower also hints that he will continue or enhance the MaineToday’s partial-paywall model:

“In order to continue to make newspapers a sustainable model, most dailies and weeklies across the country have realized that you cannot give away your core products and now charge nominal fees for all their print and Internet papers.”

For advertisers he promises opportunities for “native advertising:”

“For those wanting just Internet, for less than 10 cents a day we provide up-to-the-moment news coverage and an opportunity through our biz memberships for our business advertising partners to share their product and service info direct to the consumers in what is rapidly becoming a viable companion product to print; we refer to this as ‘native advertising,’ because it originates from the advertiser and is often explanatory in nature.”

While he says newspapers must “morph and reinvent themselves to stay relevant,” Brower is distrustful of social media.

“Social media is like the Wild West: it is fast-moving, ever-changing and exciting – it can’t be ignored. The challenge is that, like in the Wild West, the sheriffs are few and far between. Only faintly policed and edited, it has become the new “gossip” more than it has replaced traditional media.”

He also seems to strongly disapprove of pseudonymous comments, which are currently allowed on the MaineToday websites.

“The job of an opinion column is to create dialog and for readers to think. The job of a newspaper is to moderate the discussion. This compares to social media and websites that allow pseudonyms and encourage trash talk in what often comes down as something similar to the liquid courage we might get after one-too-many adult beverages on a Saturday night.”

Over the past few years of ownership by Sussman, who is the husband of First District Democratic Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, commenters on the right often attacked the MaineToday newspapers for what they perceived as a liberal bias. Unlike under the previous owner, Richard Connor, however, there were no public reports of the ownership meddling in the newspapers’ reporting.

Brower is less directly involved in politics, but he hasn’t been afraid to share his personal ideology and political thoughts in his columns.

“As an Independent myself, I do lean to the center and perhaps teeter on left and right side of center depending on the issue. Certainly consider myself moderate and have supported Independent Sen. Angus King in both of his statewide runs for office. In this case, I have decided (at least for now) to align myself with Michael Michaud primarily because the polls suggest that he has the support to take on our governor,” he wrote during the last election.

He supports increasing the minimum wage, writing that “[c]ommon sense says why not just raise the minimum wage using CPI as the leveler from the last time it was raised? Can we at least keep up with inflation for the people who need it the most and are willing to work?”

“Although I believe in a work-fare system and a hand-up vs. a welfare system that perpetuates the plight of the poor with a hand-out that does not include enough incentives to help those struggling get ahead, I still consider myself somewhat liberal in my beliefs that a society is only as good as how it takes care of its elderly, its sick and its disenfranchised,” he wrote in Augusta of last year.

Interestingly, given the current discussion over the MaineToday employee contract, Brower doesn’t seem to be the biggest fan of unions.

“I have always been pro-worker, but am not a big supporter of unions because they often create adversarial confrontations and sometimes negotiate with bravado, stubbornness or not at all, helping create an “us against them” mentality; that is what is hard to support.”

Brower has pledged that the views of the ownership and editorial board will not affect the newspaper’s coverage and that he will “allow all viewpoints to be heard” on the opinion pages.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I write a column for the Press Herald and have a personal stake in the newspaper’s future.

Mike Tipping

About Mike Tipping

Mike is Maine's longest-writing political blogger and explores state politics and policy with a focus on analysis and explanation. He works at the Maine People's Alliance and Maine People's Resource Center.