Morning Mediawire: The next step for the Mogul of Maine

Owner of 6 of state’s 7 dailies trying to puzzle way to sustainability — and succession

For much of the past few weeks, the man who owns all but one of Maine’s daily newspapers and many of its weeklies had been taking a room at a friend’s seaside hotel before it opens for the season, trying to figure out the latest puzzle before him.

If he could get all these pieces to connect, says Reade Brower, what happens next? If the business becomes sustainable, would it be something he’d hold onto, something attractive to a responsible newspaper group or something tenable enough that employees eventually could take it over? And if something happened to him in the meantime, who would the next “him” be?

Brower
Brower

Brower, 61, has been figuring out puzzles most of his life. In his youth, he sold ads for the University of Massachusetts’s Daily Collegian — and did carpentry work for a barber in Amherst when the money got short. He went for a wedding on Martha’s Vineyard and stayed to work on its alternative weekly, the Grapevine, weathering the winter in a frigid — but half-price — attic apartment. He followed his girlfriend up to Maine, where she had a teaching job. Wearing flip-flops, an orange bathing suit and a T-shirt, he sold sunglasses, batteries and balloons from the trunk of his car, scraping together money in 1985 to create a weekly newspaper, The Free Press, in Rockland. (The vanity plate on his car, which he drives barefooted, is “F-Press.”)

“I’m unemployable,” he jokes over lunch at an Italian restaurant in Portland. “I’m odd. I’ve never been able to work for somebody else.”

Through coupon books and working with advertisers, he got into the direct-mail business, which he started from a shed at his home. It became the state’s biggest by the time he sold.

He describes it as almost an accident that he began accumulating newspapers, joking that he “was in the wrong place at the wrong time, seven or eight times in a row.” Local owners preferred to deal with someone from Maine, who loved and understood the details of publishing, who wasn’t highly leveraged, who might find some economies of scale with neighboring properties — and wouldn’t strip the properties to keep up 15 or 20 percent annual returns.

Still, Brower is carrying debt, and he acknowledges that creating a sustainable news business is still a work in progress.

Apart from succession concerns, fears have arisen that he might have undue influence on a state with all his media properties. He replies that he is hands off on editorial, and refers influence seekers to his editors. He’s not much for prizes, either, although he admits it was nice that his kids showed up when he got a surprise award from a local Rotary group.

What about the mogul part, albeit a mogul in a print short-sleeved shirt and jeans? This “mogul” looked up when he was asked if he wanted salad with his fettuccine.

“Is it included?” he asked.

Working together: Florida outlets team up to warn of sea rise

 

(Screenshot from theinvadingsea.com)

In an unprecedented partnership, the editorial sections of South Florida’s three daily papers as well as public radio station WLRN joined forces to create a joint website and share each other’s work on the biggest threat to the region: the rise of the sea against it.

The collaborative work, entitled “The Invading Sea: Can South Florida Be Saved?” prompted online editorials on Friday from the Miami Herald, South Florida Sun Sentinel and Palm Beach Post. Each featured them in Sunday’s print editions.

Rosemary O’Hara, editorial page editor of the Sun Sentinel, helped bring the competitors together given the gravity of the situation. They focused on editorial sections because they could offer analysis and opinion. WLRN added reporting resources.

As dire a threat as long-term projections hold for the area, a short-term crisis delayed the monthslong project. The project paused during the massive work needed on the Parkland school massacre in February, which became a nationwide story, and the lengthy series of follow-up stories.

Quick hits

DETAINED PRIZE-WINNER: The highly regarded Baldwin-Wallace Fellowship program at the University of Michigan has awarded journalist Emilio Gutiérrez Soto a spot this year — if the Trump administration will remove the threatened Mexican journalist from a detention center in Texas. “We’re not out to provoke ICE, just to offer a path to a reasonable solution,” says Michigan director Lynette Clemetson. The jailing of Gutiérrez Soto, who was in the U.S. safely for a decade after his threatened death by a Mexican general, has provoked sharp condemnation of the Trump administration by human rights and press groups.

THEY KNEW: Charlie Rose had been at this since 1976, a former producer writes. “He would get on top of me in an airplane, grope me in cars, and emerge naked in my presence. Why did I even once put up with it?” asks Reah Bravo, writing in the New York Review of Books. On Friday, three other co-workers filed suit, accusing Rose of “repeated, ongoing and unlawful physical and verbal sexual harassment.”

SOMEONE STOLE HIS FACE: Can’t Facebook stop its facial recognition feature from being another gateway to fraud? Drew Harwell reports.

IS/WAS THE ATLANTIC RACIST?: In a remarkable exchange intended just for Atlantic employees, Ta-Nehisi Coates said: "You can go into The Atlantic archives right now, and you can see me arguing with Andrew Sullivan about whether black people are genetically disposed to be dumber than white people." Here’s the full talk with Atlantic editor Jeffrey Goldberg, via HuffPost’s Ashley Feinberg.

STORMY’S NEW FANS: In Pittsburgh, women crashed a strip club, supporting the porn star as she gyrated for dollars. Said one, “It’s only 20 bucks to see the woman who could take down a president.” And that was before her Saturday Night Live appearance.

SCARCE: Religion reporting. Not so scarce: Corrections on religion reporting.

WHAT MAKES BRIAN RUN?: CJR’s Pete Vernon interviews Mr. Stelter for answers. One clue: Venti cold brew.

THE COST OF ADS: Pandora finds frequent ads push away more of its audience than they are worth; it pushed a few others to subscribe. Via Wired.

What we’re reading

HELPING SOLDIERS: Multitasking and tech-induced information overload could be hurting American troops. That’s why the U.S. Army is looking for people to hack this problem. By David Axe for Motherboard.

ROGUE SOLDIERS: Guess who is in one of America’s most notorious hate groups? Active-duty U.S. military, some with sophisticated weapons training. Via ProPublica.

TINY VIOLIN: They compare it to cutting through a jungle with a machete. TV critics, that is, describing their work. The number of scripted shows has risen from 349 in 2013 to 487 last year — and the critics are having trouble keeping up. Who, they ask Vanity Fair’s Nicole Sperling, will discover and champion the next “Orphan Black” or “Jane the Virgin”?

DON’T CALL IT STYLE: "The writer’s voice may be more audible when it is shrieking or shouting or cursing. But the voice of the strategically neutral writer is still a voice, one that we need when we try to get at the truth without fear or favor," writes Poynter’s Roy Peter Clark.

THE NEW NARCS: They may be Mr. and Mrs. Beasley in Unit 3B, writes the Boston Globe’s Beth Teitell. In the new world of legalized marijuana, the battles are moving from the parks to the apartment hallways. Friends of the bud, beware the Belgian Malinois.

BIG QUESTION: Does growing up poor hurt your brain? Science — and the Economist — explore.

HOW MANY SPACES AFTER A PERIOD?: Researchers weigh in.

Postscript

After Friday’s Mediawire on “scandal inflation,” reader Anne Visser Ney writes: “We have scandal fatigue. Mitigate that, please. Stop the 24/7 reporting on stupidity. Dig out the harder story, the one about the acts of Everyman — Republican, Democrat, or otherwise — who is out there sailing in nasty seas trying to hold the good ship of republic together.”

On Poynter.org

Verifying social media videos? Here are 10 tips. By Daniel Funke.

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