Camden publisher to buy Portland Press Herald, sister papers

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PORTLAND — Mid-coast businessman Reade Brower has reached a deal to purchase MaineToday Media, the newspaper group that owns the Portland Press Herald, the Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal and the Morning Sentinel.

A memo sent to MaineToday Media staff late Tuesday confirmed financier S. Donald Sussman, husband of Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, agreed to sell the paper. He paid $3.3 million for a 75 percent stake in the company in March 2012 and, according to the memo, invested $13 million in the newspaper group since that purchase.

The memo did not disclose a sale price but said the deal will help the newspaper group overcome two major challenges: debt inherited from the paper’s previous owners and the cost of printing the paper on aging presses.

“The sale resolves the balance sheet problems as all proceeds from the sale are going to pay company debt, with the bank receiving the vast majority of the proceeds to retire its loan, and addresses the production challenge by putting the company in the hands of an experienced commercial printer and newspaper operator,” the statement to employees said.

The statement said Chris Miles, former publisher of The Times Record in Brunswick and current partner with Brower in the Brunswick-based Alliance Press, also will be a partner in the deal.

Brower plans to purchase the newspaper group through a new company called MTM Acquisition, which became registered with the Maine secretary of state on April 13.

Brower, a Camden resident, also owns The Free Press and The Courier-Gazette in Rockland, The Camden Herald and The Republican Journal in Belfast.

MaineToday also operates the Bath-based Coastal Journal and has about 400 employees.

The deal is scheduled to close June 1, the internal statement said.

“Over the next month, we will share details of the transition plan,” the company statement said. “One of the company’s first tasks after completing the transition will be to work with Chris (Miles) to map out a plan for resolving our long-term production strategy.”

Tom Bell, a reporter for the paper and president of the Portland Newspaper Guild, said the union still is evaluating the situation and hopes to meet with Miles as soon as possible.

“Our focus right now is protecting the rights of our members,” Bell said.

The union’s contract technically has expired but contains a provision that the employees will continue under those terms indefinitely. The union has 232 dues-paying members and represents more workers in collective bargaining.

Bell said he is not sure what the plan is in relation to printing. Those workers are represented by another union.

The deal would make the fourth time in 17 years the newspaper group has changed hands.

According to a 2009 Seattle Times article, the Blethen family-controlled Times Co. borrowed roughly $213 million to buy the Maine newspaper chain from the Gannett family in 1998. The group of investors in 2009 was led by Richard Connor, who resigned as the newspaper group’s CEO in 2011. After an internal investigation concluded in 2013, the company claimed Connor misappropriated $538,000 during his tenure as CEO.