PORTLAND, Maine — MaineToday Media Inc., the company that owns newspapers including the Portland Press Herald, Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, announced Friday it had secured “significant new capital” from a new group of investors led by a former Press Herald executive.
Chris Harte, who was president of the Portland Press Herald from 1992 to 1994, is part of the investment team 2100 Trust, according to a release put out Friday afternoon by MaineToday Media.
According to the release, the 2100 Trust, led by founder Aaron Kushner, Harte and media executive Jack Griffin, “has spent a year assembling a group of New England-based investors and media executives who understand the critical role newspapers play in our community and are committed to re-invigorating them with fresh ideas, capital and disciplined management.”
Harte declined Friday to discuss how much investment the 2100 Trust would be making in MaineToday Media.
Harte was chairman and then publisher of the Star Tribune from 2007 to 2009 and previously had been a top executive at other Knight-Ridder papers. He left the Star Tribune as it was emerging from bankruptcy protection, according to media reports.
Kushner, of Wellesley, Mass., is an entrepreneur who for the last year or so has been trying to put together a team to buy the Boston Globe.
Griffin, president and founder of Empirical Strategic Advisors, was recently CEO of Time Inc., the nation’s largest magazine company. Griffin was CEO for less than half a year before being ousted by Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes about a year ago, according to media reports. Previously, Griffin held executive roles at Meredith, Advance Publications and The New York Times Co.
Harte said Friday the MaineToday Media company “presents many opportunities to reach the residents of Maine.”
“We are acutely aware of the history and impact these newspapers have had on their communities and our most important job will be meeting the high bar that has been set. Our goal is to invest and grow this business by delivering professional, trusted news to Maine people,” Harte said.
Harte told the Bangor Daily News that the investment team was working to close the deal, and had no immediate planned changes for the media company’s operations.
“We have a lot of ideas about how we can continue the process that’s been going on for years, trying in tough times to make sure the paper stays important for all of these communities,” said Harte.
Harte said he would not be taking over as CEO. He did say the team had a “great publisher” ready to lead MaineToday Media, to be announced when the final deal is signed.
“He will be fantastic,” said Harte.
According to the release, the agreement calls for both parties to complete and sign a deal as quickly as possible. Upon closing the transaction, the release said, the 2100 Trust would operate MaineToday Media’s properties with a team made up of current management and other experienced media industry professionals.
MaineToday Media has undergone serious cuts and changes in top management in recent months. In October, the Press Herald underwent a round of layoffs, both voluntary and involuntary, that resulted in 61 job losses.
Later that same month, it was announced that Richard L. Connor, who bought the paper along with other investors in 2009, was stepping down from his position. At the time, a source who asked not to be identified told the Bangor Daily News that Connor’s resignation came amidst increasing disagreement between him and the company’s board of directors over the direction of MaineToday Media.
Peter Brodsky, chairman of MaineToday Media’s board, said Friday that Connor no longer was involved in management of the board. Asked if Connor still had an investment stake, Brodsky declined to comment, citing the confidentiality of the shareholders.
In November 2011, a North Carolina paper company filed a lawsuit against Maine Today Media, alleging it was not paid for tons of paper delivered to the company. McGrann Paper Corp. of Charlotte, N.C., sought payment of more than $124,000 in unpaid bills for more than 300,000 pounds of paper.
According to the suit, CRG Partners Group LLC, a firm that specializes in restructuring troubled companies, was brought into Maine Today Media to work with the media company.
According to documents provided to the Bangor Daily News, CRG was seeking up to $15 million in investment for a “northeast print and digital media company.” According to the source, that company was MaineToday Media.
The investment papers said the company was seeking to replace about $10 million in new investment to retire debt and $5 million to provide new liquidity.
The company had been losing increasing amounts of money over the last few years, which was not an aberration given the economy and its effect on the media industry. But through recent cuts and the update of the company’s technology, the papers suggested, the company could be profitable.