Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Failed suburban paper tries again in the city

Published in the Portland Phoenix

A branch of the Portland Press Herald that couldn’t keep a weekly newspaper afloat in the suburbs has shifted to a new publication geared to compete directly with the Portland Phoenix.

As described, the new paper will be what the industry refers to as a “faux alt” — a “youth-oriented” weekly that attempts to imitate genuine alternative papers such as the Phoenix. A press release announcing the change says the new publication will include coverage of the local arts scene, as well as “household tips and repair ideas . . ., budget tips, . . . (and) recipes” targeted at 27- to 37-year-old people living between Brunswick and Old Orchard Beach, and inland from Portland to Windham.

Similar efforts by other daily-newspaper companies around the country have resulted in terrible failures, including the closure of the Miami Herald’s Street Weekly in January 2005, after six years of financial losses. And this January, the Tampa Tribune’s attempt, Orange, folded after just 20 weeks of publication. Industry statistics show that daily newspaper readership is nose-diving — especially among younger audiences. These faux alts are an admitted marketing ploy to deliver younger readers to advertisers.

The Press Herald has tried before: in the early ’90s (going up against the alternative Casco Bay Weekly in its heyday) the daily planned Go magazine as a stand-alone publication, but after suffering low newsrack pickup, it was demoted to an entertainment insert in the Thursday Press Herald. And in the summer of 2006, there was the Old Port Times, an advertorial product covering Portland night life that appeared briefly and has never again been heard from.

The staff of the new paper will be substantially the same staff as worked at the Community Leader, a three-year-old effort by a division of the Press Herald to attack the Forecaster (owned by the Lewiston Sun Journal, making the Leader part of a daily newspaper battle-by-proxy) in its home turf of Falmouth and Freeport.

In a letter to readers in last week’s final edition of the Community Leader, its publisher — who is keeping his job — outright admitted that former readers and advertisers “are in good hands with the Press Herald and our competitive publishers” — meaning the Forecaster and the Sun Journal won, hands down.

The new weekly publication’s name reflects the Press Herald’s apparent plan: Switch. And while the paper, like its daily parent, will likely depend at least in part on sources answering questions over the phone, Switch’s top brass appear to be following the Press Herald execs’ lead on handling calls they get from reporters — which is not to return them at all.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Portland Phoenix, the best in New England!

Published in the Portland Phoenix

The Portland Phoenix had its best year ever at the New England Press Association (NEPA) awards banquet on Saturday, taking home 15 awards, including 10 for first place.

We also scored the New England-wide contest’s highest honor — George A. Speers Newspaper of the Year, awarded for overall excellence in editorial content and presentation.

Our advertising and production departments won first place in Advertising General Excellence, the highest honor given for those departments.

Both Portland Phoenix staff and freelancers won first place in Local Election Coverage, for reporting on the 2005 election.

Freelancer LANCE TAPLEY won first place in Government Reporting, for “Burning Money” (February 17, 2006), about how the state failed to negotiate bulk-discount prices for its Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which provides heating oil to poor and elderly Mainers. Tapley also won second place in Investigative Reporting, for his ongoing series on torture in the Maine State Prison’s Supermax unit.

Former staff writer SARA DONNELLY won first place in History Reporting for “Record Keepers” (September 1, 2005), her coverage of Portland historians’ efforts to preserve local artifacts and information. Donnelly also won second place in General News for “Grass Roots Fire Fight” (June 9, 2006), a look at the Maine Green Party’s internal conflicts and struggle to survive.

Freelance writer WHIT RICHARDSON won first place in Sports Reporting for “Sky Society” (July 14, 2006), which profiled the culture of Portland’s Ultimate Frisbee-playing community.

Managing editor JEFF INGLIS won first place in the General News category for “Armory Arts Center” (January 6, 2006), a story envisioning what could become the future of the abandoned South Portland armory. (The building has since been purchased by the city of South Portland and turned into a garage for city trucks and general storage space, as the city council attempts to determine a long-term plan for the building.)

Our advertising and production staff won several awards, as well.

They had a clean sweep of the Local Ad — Color category, taking first, second, and third places. And they won first place in Advertising Campaign, first place in Local Ad — Black-and-White, and second place in Self-Promotion.