PORTLAND — By the end of this month, city residents will have another free newspaper to pick up at the coffee shop or grocery store.
The Portland Daily Sun will publish weekdays and include news of Portland along with some national and international news from The Associated Press.
Mark Guerringue, a partner in the venture, said he has been eyeing Portland as a possible market for “years and years.”
Guerringue is a founder of three free daily newspapers in New Hampshire: The Conway Daily Sun, The Berlin Daily Sun and The Laconia Daily Sun. In an industry where advertising and circulation revenues are shrinking as readers increasingly look online for news, Guerringue and his partners have grown the free daily model.
For the Portland venture, Guerringue is partnering with Curtis Robinson, who has worked for several small newspapers and most recently in public relations in Washington, D.C. The Portland paper will operate out of an apartment Robinson rents on Munjoy Hill.
Robinson will be “the man on the ground,” according to Guerringue, who is publisher of The Conway Daily Sun. Their other partner is Adam Hirshan, a partner with Guerringue in the other New Hampshire papers.
“Portland is just a very dynamic market,” said Guerringue, who described himself as the former editor of a now-defunct association publication in Washington, D.C., as well as a small Maryland paper. “A free daily only works in a city or town where people are really interested in their community.”
Portland, he said, is such a place, which is also attractive from a newspaper standpoint because of its compact size.
The free daily model has worked well in Conway, Berlin and Laconia, Guerringue said, where his newspapers distribute 39,000 newspapers each day. The Conway paper was started 20 years ago, the Berlin paper 18 years ago and the Laconia paper eight years ago – in direct competition with the Laconia Citizen, a long-time paid daily.
In Portland, the competition will include the city’s established daily, the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.
Guerringue said The Portland Daily Sun is not taking aim at the Press Herald, which has reduced its staff and pages. The Press Herald and other properties owned by Blethen Maine Newspapers are for sale.
“It would be incredibly presumptuous to think we could compete with the Portland Press Herald,” Guerringue said.
Rick Edmonds, a media business analyst for the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla., said there are some challenges for a new daily – free or not – in entering a market where there is an established newspaper.
“Free dailies as a substantial force tend to be in bigger cities,” he said. Despite the Press Herald’s troubles, including a sale agreement that has been delayed, Edmonds said it is doubtful the larger paper would fold.
Where a free daily can have some success, he said, is with smaller advertisers who cannot afford a bigger paper’s rates.
Portland has several weekly and bi-weekly news publications. The Forecaster is published every Wednesday and will soon change its Web site to include daily updates.
Karen Rajotte, publisher of The Forecaster, said she was surprised anyone would attempt a new newspaper venture in light of the current economy.
“It has been tried before and failed, in better economies,” Rajotte said. “We have always welcomed competition. It benefits our readers by making us all work harder to produce the best possible product.”
The Portland Phoenix provides alternative news and comes out each Wednesday. Other community news sources include the West End News, Munjoy Hill Observer, The Baysider, The Bollard and Maine Switch, which is published by Blethen.
The Daily Sun model relies on a small staff and a relatively small print publication – about 16 pages per edition. In Portland, four staffers will work out of the Munjoy Hill apartment, Guerringue said. The paper will be printed in North Conway, N.H., where the other Daily Sun papers are printed.
The Portland Daily Sun will start with a distribution of 5,000. Guerringue said while the paper will have a Web site, the company is switching to a new content management system and will concentrate at first on its print product.
“Print is not dead,” Guerringue said. “At least not at a community news level.”