My former employer, Blethen Maine Newspapers, finally got new ownership last week, over a year after it was put up for sale. The new company is called MaineToday Media (which I obviously think is pretty cool because “MaineToday” had been the name of our division of the old company).
I’m sure the transition is stressful for those on the inside, and even more so for those whose jobs were eliminated, but it promises to be healthy in the long run.
The new owner, Richard Connor, has said he wants to make the company successful by tightening the whole organization’s focus on local news, and by becoming more responsive to the needs of customers. He has also made clear that there will need to be fewer employees going forward. All those represent big challenges, and I wish him the best as he puts the company on a path to success.
There’s no question that newspaper companies have to get leaner in response to the new economic realities affecting all media, especially around advertising revenue. And newspapers in particular need to get much more focused on their communities, in terms of both readers and advertisers. Retaining those readers and advertisers – and growing each as much as possible – is key to stabilizing and growing a newspaper company.
At the same time, newspaper companies need to find ways to meet the needs of local consumers who have turned away from the newspaper, in print and online. The Press Herald, Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel, have enviable reach in their markets. Counting print and online usage, on a monthly basis they might touch around 60 percent of people in the communities they cover. At a time of fracturing media usage, that kind of reach is huge, and it will be a challenge to retain it.
Still, 60 percent reach means 40 percent of the consumers in those markets have made a conscious decision to bypass those brands, in print and online. In the past, newspapers would take that as a challenge to remake themselves to serve “young readers,” for example, while gingerly avoiding turning off their core readers. (Hint: it didn’t work.)
Today instead, many newspaper companies are focusing hard on serving that core audience with the news they want, while also creating new print and online products that serve untouched segments. These are local people who aren’t interested in local news, for example, but who do have needs for local information.
I mention all this because the new MaineToday Media contains a strand of DNA that — for better or worse — was laser-focused on finding and serving local consumers and advertisers who probably weren’t going to be served by the newspapers. I hope there’s a way to embed that DNA in the new organization — or at least keep it on ice until the fundamentals of the company are solid.
At any rate, I wish success to everyone, both new and old, in the new company.