January 6, 2012 | last updated January 6, 2012 6:21 pm

New owners in wings for MaineToday Media

A former president of the Portland Press Herald is heading up a group of investors intending to buy the MaineToday Media franchise.

MaineToday Media said in a press release late Friday that Chris Harte, PPH president from 1992-94, and the 2100 Trust LLC investment group have agreed to terms that would lead to a "significant investment" in the company to strengthen current operations and future growth.

The term sheet, according to the release, would place operations of MTM's properties under the management of 2100 Trust with a team of current management and "other experienced media industry professionals."

But exact details of those terms — including the size of the investment, possible realignments of staff and products — will not be known until the deal is finalized in the coming weeks.

"MaineToday Media is one of the strongest and most diverse media companies in the region, and presents many opportunities to reach the residents of Maine," Harte said in a written statement.

MaineToday Media owns and operates the Portland Press Herald, the Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal, the Morning Sentinel and the Coastal Journal, as well as, Maine Jobs and Raising Maine digital properties.

"We are acutely aware of the history and impact these newspapers have had on their communities and our most important job will be meeting the high bar that has been set," he added. "Our goal is to invest and grow this business by delivering professional, trusted news to Maine people."

Harte's investors have multiple ties to media. Among them are Jack Griffin, who ran Meredith Corp., one of the country's largest media conglomerates, publishers of magazines such as Family Circle and Better Homes and Gardens, as well a radio and television stations around the country. Last year he left Meredith to become CEO of Time Inc. After two quarters at the helm of Time, he left and opened a media consultancy in September 2011.

Another investor, Aaron Kushner, has been working with Harte for the last year in an attempt to buy The Boston Globe. Harte's private equity firm bought the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 2007 and was publisher when the paper filed for bankruptcy in the fall of 2009 with nearly $500 million in debt.

According to 2007 article by Portland Phoenix Editor Jeff Inglis, Harte is also a "major investor" in Current Publishing. Inglis is a former editor of Current Publishing, which produces weekly newspapers, as well as niche publications, in Cumberland and York counties.

Richard Connor, former CEO and an investor in MaineToday Media, along with other investors, bought the Maine franchise in 2009, from Blethen Maine Newspapers. Blethen, a subsidiary of the Seattle Times Co., had purchased the company from Guy Gannett Communications in 1998. Connor, who stepped down as CEO at the end of 2011, pared the work force from 560 at the time of the sale to under 400 and reported the first increase in paid circulation in five years at the time of his departure.

It is unclear whether Connor remains an investor.

Peter Brodsky, chairman of the MTM Board of Directors, said in a statement welcomed the new investment, extolling MTM employees and Harte's commitment to the company.

Tom Bell, president of the Portland Newspaper Guild Local 128, said he is encouraged by the prospect of new investors.

"This is a positive development," Bell said. "These seem to be serious people."

Bell said he has "some ideas" about the direction the investors would like to take the paper, which is facing increasing competition in the Portland market from the Bangor Daily News.

Although he wouldn't elaborate on the investors' plans, Bell said he hopes they continue to build on the progress of the CRG Partners, a consulting firm helping to restructure the company, as well as the new contract with the writers guild.

"We're ready to embrace new technology, new ideas and work with the investors to create a newspaper that is profitable," Bell said.

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Investment group planning to buy MaineToday Media


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