Last week, retired Portland Press Herald columnist Bill Nemitz announced in a column that he and other media leaders in the state had formed the Maine Journalism Foundation. The nonprofit organization was formed to “sustain and nurture Maine’s reputation as a bastion for independent local news.”
The foundation’s first goal is to acquire the Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram from its current owner — and it has set an initial fundraising target of $15 million toward that goal. We asked Emily Barr, one of the founding board members and recently retired CEO of Graham Media Group, to tell us about what the foundation hopes to accomplish. Local Media Foundation is serving as a fiscal sponsor of the organization.
Why did you decide to go this route and launch the Maine Journalism Foundation?
The three of us, Bill Nemitz, Bill Burke and I, have each spent our careers working in and around newsrooms and are huge believers in the power and value of journalism, especially when it comes to supporting local communities. We had a sense that the current owner of Masthead Maine (the parent company of the Portland Press Herald and other regional papers) was getting ready to pass the baton to a new owner and we decided now was the perfect time to create a new model rooted in a nonprofit structure.
Unlike others that you mention in the announcement, this effort will be anchored by a legacy media company as opposed to starting a new brand from scratch. Tell us why this is important.
Masthead Maine has done an outstanding job of serving many different large and small communities in Maine so rather than starting from scratch, we have an opportunity to bolster a successful, recognized and respected collection of publications.
What is the current state of local media in Maine, including smaller cities and towns across the state?
Maine has been well served with locally owned and managed media properties and, in a number of communities, the local paper really drives the town square conversation. We want to encourage and nurture this approach because it truly helps define living in Maine.
How do you envision this collaboration playing out?
We are open to all sorts of ideas and are currently in conversation with individuals and foundations throughout the state and nationally to determine what will work best. We look forward to working collaboratively with other media to best serve the people of Maine.
How did you arrive at the $15 million goal, and how will that support the long-term sustainability of local news in Maine?
We want to acquire and nurture these entities and allow ourselves enough running room to invest and innovate at the same time. Masthead Maine is profitable today and we would be taking over a well-managed and successful enterprise with the intention of enhancing the portfolio.
What has been the feedback from the philanthropic community in Maine on this program so far? What about business and civic leaders?
We just launched this past week but we have been having some excellent conversations in the background and the response has been incredibly positive, almost to the point of overwhelming. Mainers really want to see this succeed and, above all else, want to see the papers remain locally controlled.
Anything else you would like to share?
We would welcome contributions of any size to our donation page and are enthusiastic about making this happen.