The owner/editor/publisher of Maine's largest newspaper chain, Richard Connor, probably saved the flagship Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram from bankruptcy after purchasing it last year. But can he restore the newsgathering capabilities of this once-decent paper?
As you'll read in my piece in the new issue of Down East, the outlook doesn't look good.
In an hour-long interview, Mr. Connor made it clear that he doesn't see newsgathering or local news as central to his papers' missions. Scoops, he says, don't matter anymore. The papers "don't sell news." Their front section's goal is to summarize the previous day's national and global events -- in practice, by printing wire service stories -- rather than own the local and statewide news of the day.
Connor was charming, frank, and generous with his time, but he was far better at saying what his news philosophy isn't than what it is. The over-arching mission would appear to be to "connect" with the community rather than to aggressively cover it, a major departure for a newspaper magnate.
Whether this is the future of the news business, it would seem an abandonment of the traditional function of the daily paper in a democratic republic: giving citizens the information they need to make informed decisions, especially about the officials, agencies, and interests shaping laws, decisions, policies, and events. If the Press Herald and its sister papers no longer see this as their prime directive, I'd argue that something else needs to step up to the plate here in Maine, and quickly.
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