Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Press Releases: Moving around

Published in the Portland Phoenix

The day before Richard Connor resigned his position as editor and publisher of thePortland Press Herald and head of MaineToday Media (as well as departing his leadership posts atop a Pennsylvania newspaper company), he moved $3 million worth of real estate holdings in Maine into a trust held by his wife.
While all the facts surrounding his departure aren't yet known, Connor resigned October 28 in the wake of what appear to be questions about the financial record-keeping at both companies, including mixing the two firms' income and expenses; the companies share some owners but not others. Also departing abruptly were MaineToday president Dale Duncan and advertising chief Michelle Lester, both Connor imports from the Pennsylvania paper.
A move such as Connor's real-estate shift could be seen as an effort to protect his assets should the companies' internal financial inquiries result in litigation.
Records on file at the Cumberland County Register of Deeds show that on October 27, Richard L. Connor and Deborah K. Connor transferred a four-acre parcel at 113 Foreside Road in Falmouth — including a 6000-square-foot six-bedroom, six-bathroom house with attached six-bay garage — valued by the town at $2.7 million and purchased on May 3 by the Connors for $2.4 million from their joint ownership into the Deborah K. Connor Revocable Trust, which had been established on October 4.
On the same day, in a nearly identical document notarized by the same attorney, Michelle Santiago of the Portland firm of Hopkinson and Abbondanza, Connor and his wife made the same transfer with a $500,000 one-acre parcel with a 4000-square-foot seven-bedroom, six-bathroom house at 49 High Street in Camden, according to records in Knox County.
Connor, who is listed as a co-trustee (with his wife) on his wife's trust, didn't return multiple e-mail and phone messages. Santiago has changed employers; reached at her new office, she declined to comment.
The ex-news-exec wrote in a farewell column that he's going to stay in media, and is looking to buy more newspapers. However, he'll have to do it without his major financial backer, HM Capital of Dallas. That company, which was central to both his 2006 deal to buy the Times Leader newspaper in northeast Pennsylvania and his purchase of thePress Herald and its sister publications, told Citizen's Voice (a competing publication in the Keystone State) that it will "no longer invest in media," calling that sector a "troubled area."
• The more lasting question, of course, is what will happen to MaineToday Media. Connor has said he'll retain his ownership stake in the company; whether his other backers do remains to be seen. None of them have experience with media companies or the news business; all of them have been largely silent partners, at least from the public perspective.
They now find themselves owning — and attempting to find a leader for — a newspaper group that, if possible, is even more troubled than when Connor and his crew bought them from the Blethens in 2009.
Last month's significant layoffs and buyouts have decimated the Press Herald's newsroom staff, who remain headed by a Connor crony, Scott Wasser. The Morning Sentinel and the Kennebec Journal are reeling from two major blows in a single week.
On November 4, editor and publisher Tony Ronzio wrote a groveling public apology because the KJ had, the day before, run a year-old story from another newspaper without updating it, verifying it, or seeking comment from its subject.
Four days later, the Sentinel ran a front-page story saying the newspaper had been caught discounting political advertising for a candidate who works in the ad department. Dana Sennett, a long-serving Waterville city councilor who became mayor in a June special election to fill the slot vacated by Governor Paul LePage, got employee discounts totaling $3800 for his political ads. After a rival candidate (Karen Heck, who ousted Sennett and became mayor) found out by looking at campaign-finance reports, the paper asked him to pay the full amount.
More questions than answers, really.