By Dan Kennedy
Last month we learned that Reade Brower was getting ready to sell Maine’s Portland Press Herald and several other newspapers. Today we received good news: a nonprofit organization is hoping to acquire those papers and run them for the benefit of the public.
Retired Press Herald columnist Bill Nemitz, president of the newly formed Maine Journalism Foundation, writes that the nonprofit aims to buy Brower’s five daily and 25 weekly newspapers, known collectively as Masthead Maine, to “sustain and nurture Maine’s reputation as a bastion for independent local news.” Nemitz adds:
We at MaineJF want to be the next to carry the Masthead Maine banner. Our goal initially is to acquire the company and operate the various publications as a nonprofit. Beyond that, we will seek ways to enhance all journalism in Maine through targeted support for and collaboration with our media colleagues. Maine Public, for one, comes to mind.
In recent years, several papers have been acquired by nonprofit foundations, but the papers themselves continue to be for-profits. The most prominent example of that is The Philadelphia Inquirer. By contrast, Nemitz’s description sounds like the Press Herald and its sister papers will themselves be nonprofits, joining the Salt Lake Tribune and the Chicago Sun-Times, both of which have been reorganized as nonprofits.
Nonprofit status removes the pressure of having to satisfy investors, but it does come with some disadvantages as well: a nonprofit newspaper can’t endorse political candidates or specific pieces of legislation. Last fall the Press Herald published endorsements on ballot questions but not for candidates. As a nonprofit, it wouldn’t be able to do either.
Nemitz said that the new foundation is seeking to raise $15 million from large and small donors to buy all of Brower’s papers.
Brower, by all accounts, has been a good steward of the Press Herald. When he announced last month that he was seeking to offload his papers, he said he wanted to leave them in good hands, and he specifically mentioned a nonprofit organization or a public benefit corporation. Now it looks like he’ll get his wish — provided MaineJF can accomplish its fundraising goals.