Huffpost Media

Seattle Times Sells Maine Newspapers

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PORTLAND, Maine — The financially struggling Seattle Times Co. on Monday sold its Blethen Maine newspapers, including the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram, to an investor group led by a Pennsylvania publisher.

Terms of Monday's sale were not disclosed. The Seattle Times was reported to have paid upward of $200 million in 1998 for the former Guy Gannett chain, but the price that newspapers fetch has declined sharply amid a drop in ad revenues and the migration of readers to the Internet. Guy Gannett was a family-run business with no connection to the much bigger Gannett Co.

Richard Connor, a Bangor native who is editor and publisher of the Times Leader in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., signed a purchase agreement in November, but the sale was put off while he scrambled to line up financing.

Blethen Maine also includes the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, the Morning Sentinel in Waterville and the Web site.

"We are very pleased to invest in an exceptional portfolio of media and real estate assets, and I am honored to have the opportunity to lead our new company," Connor said in a statement. "I've known these papers my entire life and understand their considerable value as critical information sources within their community and throughout the state."

Connor declined to comment further Monday but planned to discuss details at a news conference Tuesday, said Dennis Bailey, his spokesman in Portland.

In lining up financing, Connor teamed up with HM Capital Partners, a private equity firm in Dallas that also owns the Wilkes-Barre paper. Connor formerly served as president and publisher of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Seattle Times Publisher Frank Blethen said his family was reluctant to sell the Maine newspapers but needed to focus its attention on its newspapers in Washington. He noted that his great-grandfather Alden Blethen, who founded the Seattle Times in 1896, was a Maine native and his family had a special affinity to Maine.

"Local, independent newspaper ownership best serves communities, and we are pleased Rich Connor was able to put together a group to buy Blethen Maine Newspapers," Blethen said.

The closing of the sale followed a vote late last month by the Portland Newspaper Guild to accept a 10 percent pay cut and other contract concessions in return for a 15 ownership stake in Connor's new company, MaineToday media.

"Our ownership stake will motivate workers and increase morale across the new company. We are proud of what we have accomplished here and are excited about the future," said Tom Bell, union president.

The Maine newspapers, like many across the country, have undergone a series of layoffs in recent years, and additional job losses are anticipated.

The newspapers have about 500 employees and a combined circulation of nearly 100,000 daily and 135,000 Sunday.

Burdened by debt, the Seattle Times put Blethen Maine on the market in March 2008. Connor's team, which initially included former Department of Defense Secretary William Cohen, quickly emerged as the most likely buyer and was given exclusive rights to negotiate a sale.

Independent newspaper analyst Alan Mutter, who's based in San Francisco, said the Maine newspapers are the predominant ones in their market and can have a successful future as long as their cost structure is under control.

"If there's any place that's the sweet spot of the publishing business, it's in a fairly isolated market where there are limited other sources for local news and limited other vehicles for advertising," Mutter said.