Editor’s Notebook: This news whole is greater than its parts

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In October 1986, a small group of Falmouth residents decided to fill what they called a “local news void” left by the Portland Press Herald. They launched the Falmouth Forecaster.

They probably never imagined their “hey gang, let’s publish a newspaper” effort would grow to four weekly editions, plus the American Journal and Lakes Region Weekly, with about 80,000 readers a week throughout Cumberland County.

They probably also never imagined their shoestring enterprise would eventually become part of the same organization that publishes the Press Herald.

Neither did anyone now at The Forecaster.

On Aug. 1, our parent Sun Media Group will cease to exist; we’ll become part of SJ Acquisition, a company formed by Reade Brower, the owner of MaineToday Media (Portland Press Herald, Maine Sunday Telegram, Kennebec Journal, Morning Sentinel, Coastal Journal). The new company is headed by Lisa DeSisto, who is also president and CEO of MaineToday Media.

It’s an understatement to say the July 17 announcement took everyone at The Forecaster by surprise. A company-wide email that afternoon gave us about 20 minutes notice of a conference call, in which members of the Costello family announced the sale and introduced DeSisto and Brower at our mother ship, the Sun Journal in Lewiston. About an hour later, DeSisto was in our Falmouth office, meeting employees, answering questions, and asking questions.

I’ve been at The Forecaster for 13 years, and a professional journalist for 40. I’ve been through this before (and so has The Forecaster). I’ve also learned to take almost anything anyone tells me with a healthy dose of skepticism; questioning is, after all, the journalist’s primary tool.

At a previous job I heard new owners publicly promise newsroom integrity and independence. They even told us they believed in the time-worn – and usually misunderstood – old quote about our purpose being to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” It was only later, in private discussions, that they made it clear keeping advertisers satisfied mattered more to them than serving the readers.

So I hope my new bosses will excuse my admission that I was slightly suspicious when they promised it will be business as usual at The Forecaster and our sister publications after Aug. 1.

But now that I’ve had a chance to think about this sale, my skepticism has been replaced by cautious optimism.

In its nearly 31-year history, The Forecaster has changed ownership four times; each time the transaction made the paper better. The first was in July 1987, when Jane LeShane, Craig Hall, Mark Rajotte and Will Lund took over from the Falmouth volunteers who started the paper as a nonprofit in 1986. It was sold to Marian McCue in 1990; she sold to the Costello family in 2003, and now they have sold to Brower.

Each time, the seller picked a buyer trusted to continue the paper’s tradition of journalism that respects and reflects the communities it covers.

Under every generation of ownership – and particularly under McCue and the Costello family, who grew the paper, its coverage area and its influence – The Forecaster has been committed to independent reporting of local news and sports, in a manner that belies the notion a free weekly must take a back seat to any other news organization.

We compete in print and online against daily newspapers, TV stations and other weeklies. We have succeeded thanks to aggressive, talented reporters and editors; hard-working people who sell ads and run our office; the dedicated folks who provide computer support, run the press and deliver our papers; and publishers and owners who value what we do.

So I liked what I heard from DeSisto last week. Naturally, she couldn’t say much. But what she did say was encouraging, and should encourage our readers, too.

She said she’s a fan of The Forecaster (what’s not to like, considering the number of Press Herald reporters who have started their careers here?). She also said she expects The Forecaster to occasionally collaborate on stories with the Press Herald, and to continue to compete against it, like a not-too-distant “cousin.”

We also hope to benefit from MaineToday Media’s expertise and economies of scale, especially on the digital side of the business: more vibrant, easier-to-navigate websites, more opportunities for advertisers, and a more active social media presence.

Most importantly, DeSisto told us there are no changes planned or expected in our staff. That’s good news for us, and for our readers.

Some readers may see irony in a deal that brings us together, if only as “cousins,” with the news organization that left the gap in local coverage that The Forecaster was born to fill.

But The Forecaster has evolved over the last three decades, and so has the Press Herald. Both are better today than they were in 1986, in part because of the competition between us. I’m confident the competition will continue, and our new whole will be greater than the sum of its parts.

Mo Mehlsak is executive editor of The Forecaster, American Journal and Lakes Region Weekly. He can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 107 or mmehlsak@theforecaster.net. You can also follow Mo on Twitter: @mmehlsak.

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Editor of The Forecaster; prior reporting/editing gigs at Automotive Age magazine, Daily News of Los Angeles, Biddeford Journal Tribune; Syracuse U. Orange-bleeder; lifelong NY Yankees fan, longtime resident of Red Sox Nation.
  • Moishe the Beadle

    Better, really? It appears that SJ Acquisition will have a monopoly for a continuous Left-wing agenda. I’ll stick with “The Maine Wire” for factual news.

    • EdBeem

      The Maine Wire does not even pretend to be unbiased. It is a conservative website. And that’s what’s wrong with America right now — bias confirmation, silo thinking, echo chambers, spin and propaganda. If you said you read The Maine Wire because it accords with your point of view, I could respect that, but to say you read it because it is factual suggests you don’t understand the difference between facts and opinions.

      • Moishe the Beadle

        And nearly every week we’re subjected to an anti-Trump diatribe by you. Progressives such as yourself are, in fact, what’s wrong with this country….Debbie Washerwoman-Schultz being only the latest chapter in corruption by the Dems.

        • EdBeem

          You have my permission to skip my column. You might prefer John Balentine’s. If progressives are what’s wrong with this country, how do you account for the daily circus put on by the clowns in the White House and the Republicans in Congress? What’s wrong with this country is that people too easily believe things that are not true.

          • Moishe the Beadle

            Skip your column and miss all the “fun”?

            So, the Clintons didn’t profit immensely from their positions of power? The Obamas, Holder, Lynch, Rice, etc. aren’t racists? The BLM “movement” isn’t just another re-incarnation of Marxist revolutionary causes? ObamaCare is good for the country? There is no threat from the “hijra” or Sharia law? I could go on but it’s not worth the effort.

            You’re PBS/MSNBC and I’m FoxNews/Newsmax. It’s as simple as that.

          • EdBeem

            We had 8 years of peace and prosperity under Bill; Clinton, 8 years of war and recession under Bush. 8 years of maintenance and repair under Obama. Now we have seen six months of destruction by the Trump wrecking crew. BLM is an extension of the civil right movement. Obamacare is good for the country and would be better if Ds and Rs could collaborate to fix the problems with it. And there is no danger of sharia law in this country, despite what Islamaphobes believe. Altshuler is a very weak liberal voice, useless actually.

          • Moishe the Beadle

            Thank you for your delusional thoughts.

          • EdBeem

            Thank you for your support of the Insane Clown Posse in the White House.

          • Moishe the Beadle

            I think it’s best to understand that I equate most Republicans with Democrats. I’m a constitutional conservative who believes that less government is best. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

            I’m happy that Priebus was canned because that’s what happens in the real world (not with non-profits, NGO’s or bureaucrats, of course). You don’t deliver, you’re done.

            Trump is an outsider who WILL drain the swamp because he’s not a snowflake such as most of those who were raised in the 60’s hippie-dippie, feminist, kumbaya, metro-sexual, tree-hugging, anti-American, socialist generation.

            Get used to the fact that your ilk are not currently in charge. If you think whining, pontificating, bloviating, hurling personal insults are going to change the way we respond, you’re delusional. Take your Warrens, Sharptons, Obamas, Clintons, Schumers, Pelosis and so on and move to your favorite country….Russia. We’re NOT going away. Plus, as much as we want to be civil, we won’t fight like little cowards hiding behind the ACLU when push comes to shove.

          • EdBeem

            Odd that you should mention Donald Trump’s favorite country, Russia. I honestly do not understand how any patriotic American can look at Donald Trump and not see a traitor. This is a man who said that POWs were not heroes. This is a man who said he knows more than the generals. This is a man who said he feels as though he was in the military because he wore a uniform in prep school. This is a man who has never served his country in any way whatsoever.This is a man says he can grab women’s genitals because he is a celebrity. This is a despicable, uncouth, unqualified man who won by appealing to racists and fools and by getting a lot of help from his Russian friends. If Hillary Clinton had said and done half the things Trump has, Republicans would be trying to put her in jail. Oh, wait, they already want to do that. So, yes, I want Donald Trump ousted and I want a really good apology from all the damn fools who voted for that truly awful man. America is in grave danger because he is president and I cannot taker anyone seriously as a responsible adult who supports him. I’m told I should stop saying his supporters are morons, but I don’t know how anyone could watch the Republicans in Congress trying to destroy the health care system and not conclude that anyone who needs health insurance and supports these creeps is anything else.

          • Moishe the Beadle

            You’re a Bernie guy who is an avowed socialist. You can pontificate until you’re blue in the face. The health care fiasco will implode on its own. Then, who will you blame? Keep hurling the “damn fools” and “creeps” insults. We’ll see who gets the last laugh.