February 11, 2012

Loan expected to invigorate MaineToday Media

BY TUX TURKEL Staff Writer

PORTLAND -- MaineToday Media will get a multimillion-dollar loan that will enable it to pay down debt and fund an ambitious growth plan that company officials say is aimed at making it the state's leading news source.

The company announced Friday that it has reached terms with Maine Values LLC that includes the loan, valued at $3 million to $4 million.

Maine Values is owned by S. Donald Sussman of North Haven, a financier who is one of the state's leading philanthropists and political donors. Sussman, who is the husband of U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, will own a 5 percent equity stake in the company and have a seat on the board of directors.

MaineToday Media owns and operates The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, the Morning Sentinel in Waterville and the Coastal Journal in Bath, as well as digital properties including mainetoday.com, Maine Jobs and Raising Maine.

The closing has not been scheduled, but the parties said they want to finalize the deal as soon as possible.

Sussman stressed in an interview that he won't be involved in the daily operations of the newspapers or in matters of hiring and news coverage.

Sussman has donated millions of dollars to charities and to struggling businesses around Maine over the past 20 years, often with little or no publicity. He became a high-profile figure during Pingree's re-election campaign in 2010, when his engagement to the congresswoman and his strong support of liberal and Democratic causes drew criticism from Republican and conservative activists.

During the interview, Sussman said he has no intent to use his new position to advance his personal views. He said he sees the investment largely as a civic responsibility, not a business venture.

"I will have nothing to do with editorial policy and control or anything like that," he said.

He said he got involved only after being approached late last month by members of The Portland Newspaper Guild, who convinced him that the newspapers were at risk of closing without a quick infusion of cash.

"That was unthinkable to me," Sussman said.

"I believe a community's newspaper says a lot about the importance it places on education, democracy and working together to get things done," he said. "I am investing in and loaning working capital to MaineToday Media because I believe the communities it serves deserve healthy, financially stable daily newspapers that can help foster these values we all share. I want people to know that their local paper, the professional news they depend on and the jobs that come with it are here to stay. Employees and management have worked hard on an impressive growth plan. I am glad to be able to provide resources to fund that plan."

In a prepared statement, the MaineToday Media board of directors said that it does not expect any reductions in employment. MaineToday Media's work force now totals 430.

"We have tremendous faith in the editors and newsroom staff who have been hired by previous owners," said Peter Brodsky, MaineToday Media's board chairman. "They are dedicated journalists who have and will always do their jobs professionally and independently."

"The board of directors has been looking for an investment partner who shares our commitment to MaineToday Media and is willing to invest in a modern, broadly supported growth strategy," Brodsky said. "We have found our partner in Donald Sussman and Maine Values LLC, and we are confident our employees, readers and business partners will be pleased."

Brodsky said the board will hire a top-notch chief executive with media experience.

In the interim, Neil Heyside will be appointed CEO. Heyside is a senior executive who leads the Performance Improvement practice for CRG Partners, a New York City firm that helps media companies and other industries restructure their operations.

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