Retired Maine journalist Bill Nemitz speaks to a television camera in Portland on Monday, April 24, 2023. Nemitz is now the President of the nonprofit Maine Journalism Foundation which is seeking to buy the Portland Press Herald, and other papers, from media mogul Reade Brower. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

The Maine Journalism Foundation’s bid to buy Maine’s largest newspaper group may be getting a boost from a national nonprofit that helps newspapers remain locally owned.

The National Trust for Local News was reported to be in the running to buy Masthead Maine, according to a recent Boston Globe story. But it is more likely that the national group is working with the foundation to boost its chances for success, Dan Kennedy, a Northeastern University journalism professor and media commentator, said.

“I assume that the trust is looking to work with the Maine Journalism Foundation rather than compete, so that is potentially a promising development,” he wrote in a column in Media Nation.

Masthead Maine owns the Portland Press Herald, four other daily newspapers, 25 weeklies and six specialty publications. Its owner  put it up for sale in April. It could be ripe for the kind of deal the national nonprofit has structured in Colorado and Texas to save local newspapers there. The group also brings money and extensive contacts to the table.

It still is not clear how the trust would structure the deal nor what will be required to turn the for-profit media company into a nonprofit. Those on both sides of the talks said they were under non-disclosure agreements, although Bill Nemitz, president of the Maine Journalism Foundation, has said that if it buys the newspaper group, it will turn it into a nonprofit.

The national trust has experience with that. In May 2021, it put together a deal to own and operate 24 suburban newspapers with The Colorado Sun under the title of the Colorado News Conservancy. The newspaper and conservancy are for-profit public benefit corporations.

The trust also acquired the Denton Record-Chronicle, a century-old Texas newspaper whose previous owner reached out to it to discuss options for his succession. The trust bought the paper, which is now part of KERA, a North Texas public media station. The newspaper became a nonprofit entity when it was acquired.

Elizabeth Hansen Shapiro, CEO of the National Trust for Local News, would not comment on whether the two nonprofits are working together, saying she is prohibited from disclosing any information because of a non-disclosure agreement.

Nemitz did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but he told the Boston Globe he was under a non-disclosure agreement.

Brower said nothing is confirmed yet. “I am under NDAs with multiple sources so I would not be able to comment specifically,” he said.

The Maine Journalism Foundation appears to be under pressure to get the deal done soon. Nemitz, a former Press Herald columnist and 45-year Maine news veteran, told WERU radio in May that it is on a tight timetable to raise between $3 million and $5 million in donations or pledges to convince Brower that it is a legitimate buyer.

“Private equity firms, hedge funds, venture capitalists are circling the waters right now looking at these properties,” Nemitz told the station. “We fear that if they were to purchase them, local news as we know it would really dry up.”

Brower, who has owned the papers since 2015, may favor a deal with the nonprofits to avoid negative publicity and impact of a sale to a large chain or outside investment group that might pare down the papers and cut staff.

The overall fundraising goal of the foundation is $15 million that will be used to buy Masthead Maine and run a journalism-based philanthropy clearinghouse for the state of Maine.

“The national trust certainly could add a lot to this, no question about it,” Kennedy said.

Lori Valigra, investigative reporter for the environment, holds an M.S. in journalism from Boston University. She was a Knight journalism fellow at M.I.T. and has extensive international reporting experience...