The meaning of a free press

By Reade Brower | Apr 28, 2015

Let children read whatever they want and then talk about it with them. If parents and kids can talk together, we won't have as much censorship because we won't have as much fear.

Judy Blume – American Writer, b. 1938

If you read the front page of today’s newspaper, it is no surprise that the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, Kennebec Journal in Augusta and Morning Sentinel in Waterville are in the process of being sold. This week, we (the collective “we”) have agreed to become the custodians and stewards of the state’s largest daily newspaper group.

The “why now” and the “why us” is a question saved mostly for another day; perhaps when all the i’s are dotted and the t’s crossed. This is an opportunity to show, by what we do, how important the daily and weekly newspapers of record continue to be.

Taking over the reins from Donald Sussman, a financier and philanthropist business man who has a home on North Haven, is the task at hand. Donald is married to Chellie Pingree, who represents Maine in Congress as a member of the House of Representatives. Donald’s rescue of the papers is well documented and his investments in the infrastructure and putting it back on its feet speak for themselves. Big shoes to fill, but the timing is right for him to pass off the baton. We have shared values for an independent press, and keeping the paper ownership local; that is what put us together. Our printing capacity will allow us to take on the final infrastructure challenges as we make investments necessary to deal with moving the printing of these papers into the future, combining forces with our Alliance Press, located in Brunswick.

Newspapers have had to continue to morph and reinvent themselves to stay relevant as social media and the Internet continue to assert themselves in our daily lives.

Frankly, it’s been a tough decade, but we’ve emerged and found a place for traditional print to fit in with the Internet and social media. The last two years saw record revenues for our Free Press out of Rockland -- celebrating 30 years old in May. Courier Publications and Village Soup had solid growth from where we started in March of 2012.

Social media is like the Wild West: it is fast-moving, ever-changing and exciting - it can’t be ignored. The challenge is that, like in the Wild West, the sheriffs are few and far between. Only faintly policed and edited, it has become the new “gossip” more than it has replaced traditional media. How can you trust an environment that recently told us that there was a shooting in nearby Camden only to learn it was Camden, N.J.? The rush to get information up online quickly will continue to jeopardize its veracity.

Recently, in one of our businesses, a former disgruntled employee went on a rant, telling anyone who would listen on social media what a horrible company we were. This is part of what you put up with in an unmoderated forum; people can say anything without repercussions.

While it is understood that people will make up their own minds when reading something on the “net,” it still fits the old adage that “if you read it, or if someone accuses you of it, there must be something to it.” The “where there is smoke, there must be fire” crowd, which is most of us, has no one to trust when it comes to the Internet.

On television, we trusted Brian Williams and now that trust is shaken, but at least there was a watchdog to give us perspective and to call him out.

When it comes to the newspaper industry, we want you to trust that we will present only the facts in a story and that we live by precise rules of ethics that create responsibility where readers can judge how much trust to put in us. The opinion columns are just that, opinions, and it is the job of newspapers to moderate them with (hopefully) thoughtful discussions and disagreements using a system called “letters to the editor” that are cleared and run only if non-libelous and signed. The job of an opinion column is to create dialog and for readers to think. The job of a newspaper is to moderate the discussion.

This compares to social media and websites that allow pseudonyms and encourage trash talk in what often comes down as something similar to the liquid courage we might get after one-too-many adult beverages on a Saturday night.

So what is a steward and where do the collective “we” fit in?

The short answer is that, by agreeing to take over the Portland, Augusta and Waterville dailies, we have agreed to continue in the direction of watchdog journalism and fair and objective reporting that Sussman enabled as owner of the MaineToday papers. Editorial boards, like ours here at the Courier papers, have a voice, but the stated objective is to start the conversation and allow all viewpoints to be heard. There are several columns in this paper which don’t serve any of our personal or group agendas, and several the board doesn’t agree with (several times the board has expressed different viewpoints than this column).

In order to continue to make newspapers a sustainable model, most dailies and weeklies across the country have realized that you cannot give away your core products and now charge nominal fees for all their print and Internet papers. From these newspapers, you get all the news from the week, complete with professional quality photos that are judged to best fit the interests of the general population and local readership, all in one package for about the same cost as one cup of coffee.

The print product continues to be popular and relevant because you can touch it, feel it, and the inserts and ads continue to help readers make buying decisions. The printed products are much easier to see and will direct you to the Internet for more info. For those wanting just Internet, for less than 10 cents a day we provide up-to-the-moment news coverage and an opportunity through our biz memberships for our business advertising partners to share their product and service info direct to the consumers in what is rapidly becoming a viable companion product to print; we refer to this as “native advertising,” because it originates from the advertiser and is often explanatory in nature.

Let us know your thoughts on what our papers can do for our community. In the end, we must serve those who pay us, and that is exactly the point of it all.

Turn the page ... Read, write, and respond!

Disclosure: Reade Brower is owner of these newspapers. The opinions expressed in his columns are his own, and do not represent the newspapers, or their editorial board.

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Comments (2)
Posted by: Carol W Bachofner | Apr 30, 2015 08:35

Great news! [pun intended]

Posted by: Bill Packard | Apr 28, 2015 18:45

Congratulations Reade!  The papers are in good hands.

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