Five Maine daily newspapers announce sharing agreement
BY MATTHEW STONE
Five of Maine’s daily newspapers plan to begin sharing articles and photographs next week in an effort to combine resources as newspaper revenues decline and reporting staffs shrink. The newspapers sharing their stories are the state’s largest: the Bangor Daily News, Lewiston Sun Journal, Kennebec Journal of Augusta, Morning Sentinel of Waterville and the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.
The Brunswick Times Record and Journal Tribune of Biddeford are not involved in the content-sharing deal.
“The plan is to do this in a small but meaningful way initially,” said Mark Woodward, executive editor of the Bangor Daily News.
Beginning Monday, each newspaper will offer three to four stories a day to its partners. The number of stories could grow over time, according to the newspapers’ editors. “It’s pretty informal,” Sun Journal executive editor Rex Rhoades said. “We would just try to identify what we think will be of interest to the other newspapers.”
The editors said they do not plan to share every story and photograph, particularly investigative pieces and other articles from the few regions where the newspapers compete. “We’ll still take great pride in breaking important news stories on the enterprise level,” Woodward said. “But if we can cooperate on the day-to-day routine stories, we’ll save ourselves staff time that can better be devoted to investigative work.”
Sharing stories can help make newspapers more competitive with television, radio and Internet news sources, said Jeannine Guttman, editor and vice president of the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram. Instead of the Press Herald waiting for The Associated Press to rewrite a story the day it is published in Bangor, for example, the five newspapers can carry a story on the same day. And they can credit the story to the reporter and news organization where it originates, rather than to the AP, she said.
“What we’re trying to do is two things: give people the news as it’s breaking as soon as we can, and give the credit where credit is due, and the credit is due to newspaper newsrooms,” Guttman said.
The sharing initiative expands upon current content-sharing arrangements between the state’s newspapers. The Kennebec Journal, Morning Sentinel and Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, all owned by Blethen Maine Newspapers, share stories and photos daily. Since the beginning of the year, those three papers have been through multiple rounds of staff reductions and their owner has offered them for sale.
“We have fewer resources than we did a year ago or five years ago, yet the public’s hunger for local news is high,” Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel executive editor Eric Conrad said.
The Bangor Daily News and Sun Journal began sharing stories approximately 10 years ago, Woodward said, although those papers have separate owners. “What has precipitated this relationship is a universal acknowledgment in our business that we have limited resources and there is significant potential for us to provide more coverage by cooperating and collaborating,” Woodward said.
The Maine newspapers’ arrangement is the latest example nationally of competing newspapers joining forces. Eight newspapers in Ohio this spring began sharing articles. In August, three southern Florida newspapers started swapping stories. The Florida and Ohio deals have reduced the newspapers’ reliance on the AP, the industry’s cooperative news-gathering organization.
In recent months, a number of newspapers across the country have announced plans to discontinue their AP membership, reacting to the organization’s new rate structure and general direction toward providing more content for television stations and news Web sites rather than newspapers.
“The AP cooperative, in our view, is not working as well for newspapers as it is for TV or radio or the Internet,” Conrad said. “It’s feeling more like a one-way street.”
None of the Maine newspapers has announced plans to drop AP membership. The editors said, however, that newspapers will likely see their relationship with the organization change.
“There’s a chance that Maine AP news will be less valuable as we grow” the article-sharing system, Conrad said.
As the Maine newspapers begin to collaborate more, reduced competition and fewer stories covered from a local angle could be concerns, said Robert Steele, a scholar at the Poynter Institute, a resource center for journalists. “Can a story be effectively covered from a local angle when the reporter covering it works for a newspaper in a different community?” said Steele, who began his career as a television reporter in Maine and was a University of Maine journalism professor. In addition, “there’s certainly concern that some important stories may not be as well-covered in the absence of competitive reporting.”