Richard Connor steps down as CEO of MaineToday Media

Posted Oct. 28, 2011, at 11:36 a.m.
Last modified Oct. 28, 2011, at 7:12 p.m.
Richard Connor, publisher of the Portland Press Herald
Pat Wellenbach | AP
Richard Connor, publisher of the Portland Press Herald

PORTLAND, Maine — The CEO of MaineToday Media, which owns the Portland Press Herald, Maine Sunday Telegram, Kennebec Journal and Waterville Sentinel, announced his resignation Friday.

Richard L. Connor, who bought the paper along with other investors in 2009, will step down on Dec. 31, according to a press release sent out Friday.

Connor, who is a Bangor native, cited personal reasons for his decision.

“After four years of work with a schedule that has been around the clock, seven days a week, it’s time for change for me personally, my family, and for the company,” he said in the release. “I remain a significant individual investor in the company and I believe in its future.”

A short story on the website of The Times Leader in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., reported that Connor also is stepping down from his position as editor and publisher of that paper. He’s also resigning as CEO of Impressions Media, which owns The Times Leader, the Sunday Dispatch, Go Lackawanna, The Dallas Post, The Abbington Journal, the Weekender and other websites.

In the release, board Chairman Peter Brodsky, formerly of the investment house HM Capital Partners LLC in Texas, which is the majority investor in MaineToday Media, thanked Connor for his service to the company and said the MTM board immediately will begin seeking a replacement.

“We will be recruiting leadership for these properties with strong ties to emerging media technologies that continue to shape the future of this industry. Rich Connor’s long experience in the newspaper industry provided a critical start to the reshaping of these newspapers,” he said. “Future management will build on that foundation. MaineToday Media looks forward to continuing its role as the leading source of news and quality journalism in Maine.”

Karen Dobbyn, vice president of human resources, confirmed that MaineToday Media President Dale Duncan also has resigned from the company. Duncan was officially named president in July. He had joined the company in 2010 to help with its election coverage. He had been publisher of The Indianapolis Star from 1998 to 2000 and publisher of The Times Leader in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., from 1986 to 1994.

The Press Herald underwent a round of layoffs this month, both voluntary and involuntary, that resulted in 61 job losses. Thirty-eight workers were laid off and another 23 agreed to voluntary buyouts.

Connor had blamed a decline in advertising revenue for the cuts, most of which hit the newsroom.

Robert Baldacci, an investor in the company and friend of Connor’s, said he’s “extremely disappointed with this turn of events.”

“Rich has been the guiding force for MaineToday Media, he completely turned this operation around, he’s connected with the community in a way nobody else has,” said Baldacci. “It’s unfortunate that we’re losing this dynamic leadership — the shoes are going to be very hard to fill, and I’m disappointed.”

According to a source familiar with the situation, Connor’s resignation comes amidst increasing disagreement between him and the company’s board of directors over the direction of MaineToday Media. The most recent issue of contention was Connor’s push to launch a new digital initiative for the company, MaineToday Digital, a marketing agency specializing in new media.

Connor said he began working on the acquisition of MaineToday Media from the Blethen family, owners of the Seattle Times and other papers in Washington, in 2007. Since then, he said, he has led a “significant transformation” of this company.

“We just reported the first increase in paid circulation in almost five years. The Portland Press Herald was recognized as the Best Daily Newspaper in Maine by the Maine Press Association two weeks ago. Our websites and online products have been totally revamped, and a digital division was started two months ago. Our website traffic is now the highest in the state.”

In a letter to the Portland Newspaper Guild, union President Tom Bell wrote that Connor “helped us build a stronger connection with the community, and he improved the quality of the newspapers, steps that were needed to stabilize circulation.

“But that is not enough. We must build on that success and deliver news and services on platforms other than newspapers, and we now need a digital-savvy leader who can take us to the next level. The owners of the company are committed to providing that new leadership,” Bell wrote.

The company and the union are in contract negotiations. Bell said in the letter that the talks are going well and will be completed soon.

“The departure of Rich Connor will not slow down the talks,” Bell wrote.

After Connor and others bought the paper, the company sold many of its physical assets in the state, including its offices in downtown Portland. Earlier this year, the company sold its Western Avenue property in Augusta that had housed the Kennebec Journal.

Employees of both newspapers moved to other offices in Portland and Augusta.

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