The parent company of the Portland Press Herald is set to acquire half of The Portland Phoenix, a deal that will create the unusual arrangement of an alt-weekly sharing ownership with a paper to which it is meant to offer an alternative.
Since January, sales and marketing staff for the Press Herald have been handling those roles at the free weekly, according to The Phoenix’s publisher, Mark Guerringue. The arrangement is part of a deal that will give MaineToday Media 50 percent ownership of the paper, he said.
The acquisition will come as the latest step in the swift consolidation of Maine’s newspapers under one man, MaineToday Media owner Reade Brower. Following a string of recent purchases — including the Lewiston-based Sun Journal, The Times Record of Brunswick and Journal Tribune of Biddeford — Brower has taken possession of a large swath of the state’s weekly papers and all but one of its dailies.
The Bangor Daily News is owned by longtime publisher Richard Warren.
The Phoenix publisher said that a contract with Brower’s company hasn’t yet been signed “because the lawyers are busy.” He and MaineToday CEO Lisa DeSisto declined to discuss the terms of the deal, which was first reported by The Bollard, a monthly magazine based in Portland.
The Phoenix is also now being printed by MaineToday Media. DeSisto said that the paper’s marketing and sales needs are being handled by her staff, a contractor who used to work for The Phoenix and another employee of Guerringue who is based in New Hampshire.
Despite sharing a business team with the Press Herald, Guerringue and The Phoenix’s editor said it retains editorial independence. “We have no plans to change that,” DeSisto said.
“In the abstract, it’s not ideal for an alt-weekly to be owned by the daily,” said editor Nick Schroeder. “In this case, I’ve seen nothing that would suggest that the Press Herald would interfere with our editorial coverage.”
Guerringue, who is a resident of New Hampshire where he publishes three papers, said the deal was motivated by the same pressures that have driven consolidation across the American media, plus the fact that he lives out of state.
“This is a tough world for all legacy media and this shows an awareness that it’s better to work together than to beat each other up,” Guerringue said.
Follow Jake Bleiberg at: @JZBleiberg.
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