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Working in Portland

Portland's Fourth Estate Is Alive and Innovating

Last week, Portland's daily newspaper, the Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, relaunched MaineToday.com, its online arts and living guide, with new content, bloggers, and a much-improved design.

The new site is a great resource for day-to-day cultural events in the city and region. Check out their calendar if you're considering a visit from out of town, for instance, or browse Holly Nunan's frequently-updated blog for live music suggestions.

But the new MaineToday.com is also an encouraging sign that Portland's newspapers are surviving the massive upheavals in the journalism industry, and looking to the future with new products and new ways to reach out to their audiences. The Press Herald is an important institution in the city's vibrant civic life, but in recent years it seemed in very real danger of folding. After one sale in 2009, the new owner, a Pennsylvanian named Richard Connor, burned through investors' money and humiliated himself and the newspaper in an interview on national radio.

Even after the newspaper's other investors ousted Connor a year ago, there wasn't much left to salvage: the newsroom had suffered from massive cuts, and smaller weeklies like the Daily Sun and the Forecaster were routinely producing better papers, for free.

But in the past year, the Press Herald has made a remarkable turnaround, even as its competitors have stepped up their games. With a prominent new investor (Donald Sussman, a hedge fund manager and husband of U.S. Representative Chellie Pingree), the newsroom is hiring again, producing better news stories, and printing thicker newspapers. They just poached a star executive from the Boston Globe as their new CEO. And, as the new MaineToday.com site demonstrates, they've embraced digital media as a way to improve the quality of their reporting, access to their audiences, and their bottom line.

Meanwhile, the Bangor Daily News is making a serious bid to become Maine's statewide newspaper of record, with its own Portland-based news reporters and a growing stable of new bloggers covering the city and the region.

And even the weekly Forecaster, which diligently covers local stories that sometimes get overlooked by its larger competitors, also finished its own website upgrade earlier this fall.

So even though Portland is a small city, we have several quality newspapers competing with each other, improving their products, and generally figuring out the future of news to the benefit of a more-informed citizenry and a more vibrant civic society. With all the turmoil going on in the industry, this isn't something we should take for granted — but it's definitely something Portlanders should be grateful for.

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