Connor to resign as CEO of Portland Press Herald parent company

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PORTLAND — Richard Connor will resign as the chief executive officer of MaineToday Media at the end of the year.

MaineToday Media owns The Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal in Augusta, Morning Sentinel in Waterville and the weekly Coastal Journal newspapers, and MaineToday Digital.

MTM Chairman Peter Brodsky said in a press release the board will be looking for a replacement with “strong ties to the emerging media technologies that continue to shape the future of this industry.”

Connor’s announcement comes two weeks after the elimination of 61 jobs at the Press Herald, mostly in the newsroom. Twenty-three full- and part-time employees took voluntary buyouts and 38 others were laid off.

Tom Bell, a Press Herald reporter and president of the Portland Newspaper Guild, said in a letter to union members Friday that many members were “saddened” to learn of Connor’s departure.

Bell said Connor improved the quality of the newspapers, and the union is working to build on that success.

“We must build on that success and deliver news and services on platforms other than newspapers, and we now need a digital-savvy leader who can take us to the next level,” he said.

Bell’s letter said the union has nearly completed negotiations on a new contract, and Connor’s departure is not expected to delay that process.

“To assure that the digital transition will be successful, the union is now negotiating a new contract with MaineToday Media,” he said.

According to a press release, Connor will help the company transition to new leadership over the next two months. He will continue to work on “media acquisitions and other media-related projects.”

In a written statement, Connor said he has led the company through a “significant transformation.”

He said the company experienced recently had its first increase in paid subscriptions for the first time in five years. He also touted the Portland Press Herald’s recent Maine Press Association “Best Daily Newspaper in Maine Award.”

MTM recently announced the creation of the digital division, which is based out of a Custom House Street office, rather than One City Center. The digital company, operating as MaineToday.com, will provide “reputation management” services for businesses, as well as engine marketing and optimization, and marketing with social media.

“All of our newspapers have become much better content providers,” Connor said. “And we are now literally a new media company with an emphasis on online.”

Under Connor’s leadership, a campaign ethics complaint was filed against the Press Herald last year for its role in promoting City Charter changes that lead to the popularly elected mayor. The newspaper donated $46,500 in free ads to the elected mayor campaign without disclosing the donation to its readers.

The paper said the ads were part of its business arrangement with the Portland Chamber, whose political action committee also supported the claim. The state Ethics Commission ultimately accepted that explanation.

Connor also attracted national attention last year when he publicly second-guessed the Press Herald’s editors and apologized to readers when some of them criticized the newspaper for running a Page 1 photo of Muslims praying on the ninth anniversary of Sept. 11.

Connor, a Bangor native, bought and took control of the Press Herald and its associated papers from Blethen Maine Newspapers in 2009. He is also the editor and publisher of the Times Leader in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and formerly operated the Forth Worth (Texas) Star Telegram.

This story has been updated to correct the number job at the Press Herald.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @randybillings

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