Tuesday, March 11, 2014
If your newspaper was dying and you dialed 911 for help, you’d want Lisa DeSisto to be the one who responded. So it’s our good fortune — those of us who love our daily newspaper — that DeSisto was hired last year as CEO of MaineToday Media, publisher of the Kennebec Journal, Morning Sentinel, Portland Press Herald and Maine Sunday Telegram.
DeSisto worked for the Boston Globe as chief advertising officer and general manager for the newspaper’s website — now the most-visited local media website in New England. We’re particularly lucky because Lisa and her husband have spent time each summer in the Belgrades and know our area well.
Two weeks ago, DeSisto spoke at the Kennebec Valley Chamber’s Business Insider breakfast. I’m certainly not an insider, but I crashed the party anyway to hear what she had to say. I came away excited by everything I heard, and will leave it to the leaders of these newspapers to tell you about their ideas and plans sometime soon.
I can offer a few thoughts, however, because I’m a guy who can’t even eat breakfast if his newspaper isn’t in the box at the end of the driveway in the morning. It actually happened three weeks ago on a Monday. Trudging out to the box, my heart sank. It was empty.
Knowing that my kids start their day by firing up their computers to get all the news, I tried it with my breakfast. Almost gave me indigestion. Hated it, actually. For one thing, I had to do it at the large kitchen table, instead of in my comfortable rocking chair where I often spend as much as an hour reading my KJ, coffee and breakfast next to my chair on a small table.
Nationwide, newspapers have been in a downward spiral for some time, losing subscribers by the thousands and struggling to figure out how to make money online. Our newspapers have generously shared their content online for free, but that is likely to change.
The challenge for DeSisto is to bring change to Mainers who hate change — and who are cheap. OK, I’m describing myself, but maybe the description fits you, too. What excited me most about her presentation is all the new content we’ll be getting both online and in the newspaper.
Without giving anything away, I heard her say something about expanding coverage of outdoor activities. Since the days of the revered Gene Letourneau, who wrote about hunting and fishing every day in all of these newspapers for 50 years, we’ve seen a steady decrease in coverage of my favorite outdoor sports.
Bill Clark also wrote for these newspapers for many years, offering rural common sense that has not been provided since his passing. Bill was actually my inspiration for starting this column in 1991.
I especially loved DeSisto’s emphasis on improvements to and expansion of content in the Maine Sunday Telegram. I’ve always thought it was a mistake for the KJ/Sentinel to try to produce a Sunday newspaper. The Sunday edition is not really a Sunday paper, full of special sections and something you can spend a day reading. That’s why I still subscribe to the Sunday Telegram.
Now, before you grow alarmed, I did not hear DeSisto say the Sunday KJ/Sentinel was coming to an end. More power to you if you are satisfied with it. I’m not, and I especially resent getting the outdoor articles and special columns I pay for and read in the Telegram, again the following week in a daily edition of the KJ. Seems like I’m paying for those articles twice.
I say this with just a bit of trepidation. In the 23 years I’ve been writing this editorial page column, I criticized the newspaper only once and I almost got fired. The editor called me into his office and read me the riot act. “We don’t criticize ourselves,” he said.
DeSisto and her outstanding team are more open-minded, I think (hope). And while you probably don’t know the team at the KJ and Sentinel, with new managing editor Scott Monroe, editorial page editor Ben Bragdon (and what a great move to restore that position so we’ll get editorials focused on local issues), and a good mix of veterans and new reporters, we have a professional team in place.
Now, I hope you are reading this column in the newspaper, and not online!George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon 04352, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.