Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Seattle Post-Intelligencer goes down, Maine papers' future in greater doubt

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer published its last print edition yesterday, the latest casualty in the ongoing U.S. newspaper meltdown. Unlike the Rocky Mountain News, the Post-Intelligencer (born: 1863) will continue to exist in online form, but with its news staff reduced to 20 from 165.

As in Denver, the city will still have a daily newspaper, but it may not for long as The Seattle Times is also in crisis. So are the Maine-based newspapers it owns. In fact, the future of its Maine papers -- including what was once the state's newspaper of record, the Portland Press Herald -- are in more doubt than ever after their primary suitor, Pennsylvania newspaper publisher Richard Connor, revealed his primary investors have only committed $1.1 million to a potential purchase.

Mr. Connor's bid suddenly appears very weak. He showed up in Maine last week to try to convince a public employees' pension fund to invest millions more than his own investment partner, HM Capital Partners of Texas, is willing to put on the table. He also declined to show them the books. They declined his offer. (Kudos to Christopher Cousins, the one man show at the Statehouse News Service, for getting the story.)

Maine media critic Al Diamon has obtained a copy of the document Connor did share with the pension fund's board. [UPDATE: on Mar.20 the Press Herald posted the document on its website.] It shows he's likely offering the Seattle Times Company around $20 to $30 million for the Blethen Maine Newspapers, or about what their real estate property is worth. That's roughly a tenth of what the Seattle Times' owners paid for the chain a decade ago.

The fact that Connor has so little capital lined up after months of effort caused one of Connor's greatest admirers, the anonymous blogger T. Cushing Munjoy, to lose faith.

So if Seattle, Portland, and other cities find themselves without a real daily newspaper, what will take its place? The essay that's been generating the most blogospheric buzz of late argues that, well, nothing will.

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