A nonprofit organization aimed at preserving local ownership of newspapers will buy 22 newspapers in Maine, including The Portland Press Herald and The Sun Journal of Lewiston.
The National Trust for Local News, a nonprofit started in 2021, will purchase the newspapers from Masthead Maine, a private company that owns most of the independent media in the state, including five of the six daily newspapers. Masthead Maine’s owner, Reade Brower, pointed out this year that he is Explore selling.
Elizabeth Hansen-Shapiro, CEO of the National Trust for Local News, said Tuesday that the deal includes five daily newspapers and 17 weeklies.
Ms. Hansen-Shapiro said Maine residents told her organization there was an opportunity for ownership of the nonprofit after Bill Nimitz, a longtime Portland Press-Herald columnist, said: readers asked in April to make a donation to help the nonprofit preserve local journalism in the state.
“We firmly believe in the power of independent, nonpartisan local journalism to strengthen communities and forge meaningful connections,” said Ms. Hansen Shapiro. “We understand the pivotal role that Masthead Maine and its esteemed publications play in serving Maine communities with reliable, high-quality news.”
The deal is expected to be completed by the end of July, it added. She refused to specify the selling price.
In addition to the Portland and Lewiston papers, the sale includes the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, The Morning Sentinel in Waterville, and The Times Record in Brunswick. The state’s sixth daily newspaper, The Bangor Daily News, is still owned by the Bangor Publishing Company.
“This may be the most important moment in the history of journalism in Maine,” Steve Greenlee, executive editor of the Portland Press Herald and The Maine Sunday Telegram, said in an email. “Our news report has always strived to serve the greater good, and now our business model will align with that mission.”
Many local newspapers have closed in the past 20 years, as declining print circulation and sluggish advertising revenue have hollowed them out. Private equity firms and hedge funds have in recent years snapped up distressed assets, often causing further downturns in newsrooms. Hedge fund Alden Global Capital has become the second largest newspaper operator in the country.
A number of nonprofit news organizations have sprung up across the United States in recent years to try to address the crisis in local news and fill the void left by closed newspapers. These include outlets such as The Baltimore Banner and Honolulu Civil Beat.
The National Trust for Local News, based in Lexington, Massachusetts, was started with the goal of preserving local news outlets by helping them find ways to become sustainable. The organization owns 24 local newspapers in Colorado through a collaboration with the Colorado Sun. Her philanthropic funders include the Gates Family Foundation, the Google News Initiative, and the Knight Foundation.
The executive board of the News Guild of Maine, the union that represents nearly 200 newspaper workers, said in a statement that it was grateful to Mr. Brower for choosing “to pursue a nonprofit business model rather than sell his companies to the bad actors that have devastated news organizations across the country.” .
“We see the nonprofit model as the one that can best preserve the dual nature of journalism as a consumer product and a public good,” the board said.