Monday, June 22, 2009

Newspaper finds new life under local ownership

From south of the border comes a hopeful story of a newspaper emerging from the depths of conglomerate ownership, debt and thinning content.It's the Portland Press Herald in Maine, where a new chapter is unfolding.

When former owners Blethen Maine Newspapers put the paper up for sale a year and a half ago, employees thought the paper would be added to the list of US newspaper closures.

Then along came Richard Connor, from Bangor Maine. He bought the paper and bucked a trend, opting not to drop sections, stop Sunday papers or make other cuts to content the way so many media owners are dealing with this economy and the changing media environment.

Connor and the union that represents employees at the newspaper, the Portland Newspaper Guild, sat down and worked out a new arrangement over the past few weeks under what is known as Employee Stock Ownership Plan. Employees agreed to take a 10 percent pay cut in return for a 15 percent stake in the company. And they get two seats on the company Board.

Last week, just before Guild delegates from across North America met in Washington, the "new" Herald tribune hit the stands.And here's the really good news. The paper has *added* sections and editorial pages, says Guild president Tom Bell. That's a result of the greater degree of consultation between management and employees, because of the ESOP agreement.

I hope this is the beginning of a new way of doing business in our industry: local ownership, emphasis on content despite a tough economy, and a partnership between union and management.

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