Seattle Times Co. puts Maine papers up for sale

by Eric Pryne, Seattle Times

The Seattle Times Co. put its Maine newspapers on the market today, saying a sale "may be the best opportunity for the long-term survival of our newspapers in Washington."

The privately held company, which in addition to its flagship Seattle newspaper also publishes the Yakima Herald Republican and Walla Walla Union-Bulletin, has been troubled by declining revenues in recent years, as have many other newspaper companies.

The Times acquired three Maine dailies — the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, Kennebec Journal of Augusta and Morning Sentinel of Waterville — and one weekly in 1998.

"We wish our stewardship could continue indefinitely," Times Publisher Frank Blethen said in a prepared statement, "but the difficult business environment and continuing uncertainties require we consider other options."

The Times paid about $200 million for the Maine papers. The purchase, negotiated by the Blethen family, owner of a majority interest in The Times, was opposed at the time by then-minority owner Knight Ridder, which said the Blethens had overpaid for the properties.

Since then the market value of almost all newspapers has plummeted.

The Blethens said they were drawn to the Maine papers in part because of a desire to continue their tradition of family ownership, and in part because Alden J. Blethen, the family patriarch, came to Seattle from Maine more than 100 years ago.

Together, the three Maine dailies have a combined circulation of about 101,000 daily and 136,900 Sunday.

The Times said it had engaged newspaper broker Dirks, Van Essen & Murray of Santa Fe, N.M., to market the papers. Blethen said in his statement that the goal is to complete the process by the end of the year.

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