Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Press Releases: Laid off

Published in the Portland Phoenix

Here are two items major Maine newspapers would rather you not know about.


That’s what they told members of the Portland Newspaper Guild, the union that represents most of the daily’s employees, to explain why eight advertising-related workers would be laid off and an unspecified number of vacant positions would remain unfilled, according to a summary of the conversation distributed by e-mail to guild members on August 17.

Aggravating those hefty losses is a cruel summer: “the company cited a very poor July [and] an August that’s shaping up to be even worse,” according to that same e-mail.

In roughly that same time period — from March 2005 through March 2007, the papers’ circulation has dropped 7.6 percent on Sundays, and 5 percent from Monday through Saturday. But compared to what the paper’s filings with the Audit Bureau of Circulations claim are its recent-history high (in September 2004), the drop is even bigger: down 21 percent in Sunday circulation, and 16 percent in daily circ (from 129,931 to 102,204, and 79,957 to 67,250, respectively).

And no wonder — by its own account back in June, the paper’s “Community Council” — the group of readers who help guide the paper’s coverage — has always had “hefty representation” from Baby Boomers and “World War II-generation” readers, whom Press Herald editor Jeannine Guttman calls “our core audience.” US government data estimates that roughly 2500 Maine World War II veterans are dying each year, which could help explain some of the decline. (In fact, if every single Maine veteran subscribed to the Maine Sunday Telegram, the WW2 vets’ deaths would account on their own for a full third of the subscription drop.)

The company’s statements about the August layoffs blame a “seismic shift” in the “newspaper industry,” without noting the particular problems in daily newspapers, or describing the shift as the solidification of a long-emerging trend in which consumers who are attractive to advertisers (the much-ballyhooed 18-to-34 set) are not reading daily newspapers.

This is, however, neither seismic nor — even if it were — unanticipated.

All newspapers have been facing the onslaught of the Internet for more than a decade. But it’s been the mainstream dailies, who experience the shift to online as a loss of new readership, who have felt it most sharply.

And while the pressure has risen sharply in the past 10 years, the Press Herald has been facing competition from community weekly newspapers — who focus exclusively on local news while the Press Herald touts its local devotion but then expends gallons of ink printing Associated Press stories about the Iraq war — since 1965, when former Portland Evening Express editor Harry Foote combined two smaller newspapers to create the weekly American Journal, based in Westbrook, which has covered all sorts of things the Press Herald staff never learned except by reading his paper, now owned by Current Publishing.

Second, THE BANGOR DAILY NEWS IS NICE AND COZY WITH SENATOR SUSAN COLLINS, who is seeking re-election in 2008. How cozy? BDN executive editor Mark Woodward is married to Bridget Woodward, who works as a “staff assistant” in Collins’s Bangor office.

Neither of them returned calls seeking comment, leaving us to wonder how their connection relates to the BDN’s outrage that Maine Democrats were videotaping Collins’s appearance in a public parade, allegedly as part of a coordinated effort to catch her saying or doing embarrassing things, clips of which could then be posted on YouTube.

With a tip of the hat to the contributor called “maineiac” on