A group of investors led by Wellesley businessman Aaron Kushner has agreed to take a controlling interest in the Maine newspaper group that includes The Portland Press Herald, Kushner confirmed in an interview.
Kushner, who has tried to assemble a bid for The Boston Globe, said his 2100 Trust group plans to focus in the near term on the operations at MaineToday Media Inc., which also owns the Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal, and the Morning Sentinel in Waterville.
“It really is a fabulous franchise. We’re really focused on that right now,’’ Kushner said.
Terms of the Maine deal could not be learned. The agreement comes 2 1/2 years after Bangor native Richard Connor and a group of investors bought The Portland Press Herald from The Seattle Times Co. Despite their pledge to put the group on solid financial footing, there have been more than 160 job cuts at the Press Herald, its downtown buildings were sold, and the company was recently sued for failing to pay a $124,000 paper bill. Connor resigned at the end of 2011.
MaineToday Media chairman Peter Brodsky welcomed the new investors. In a news release issued yesterday he called them “committed and passionate about growing and strengthening the company.’’
Among Kushner’s investment group is Chris Harte, a president of The Portland Press Herald in the early 1990s. Jack Griffin, a former magazine executive who briefly ran Time Inc., and former Boston Globe executive Bill Huff also are involved.
Tom Bell, president of the Portland Newspaper Guild and a Press Herald staff writer, said it’s been a disillusioning period for the paper’s employees, after agreeing to pay cuts and a pension freeze. Circulation has been falling. The Press Herald has 52,323 daily readers; the Maine Sunday Telegram has 82,300.
“Our members feel their investment in Rich Connor was squandered and they’re angry about it. We feel the company was mismanaged,’’ Bell said.
He said news of new investors was a positive development. “We think this is good news,’’ he said. “I’m looking forward to meeting with them. Our union and our workforce are ready to embrace new ideas and learn new technology.’’
Kushner acknowledged that the Press Herald staff has been through hard times. He said he did not anticipate more job cuts.
“The MaineToday Media franchise unfortunately has been through very difficult times, including layoffs,’’ Kushner said. “Our vision, our plans, start with great journalism. That is the heart of our business model, why our investors are involved.’’
Kushner, 38, has run a greeting card business and an Internet start-up. His LinkedIn page, where he describes himself as a “mission-driven entrepreneur,’’ lists newspapers as his business.
Last year, Kushner’s group tried to put together a bid estimated at $200 million for the Globe, which is owned by The New York Times Co. He would not say whether he was able to raise the funds. The Times Co. has said the Globe is not for sale.
Kushner said his investor group remains interested in owning other New England newspapers, including the Globe.
“The group of investors we have assembled are people who care deeply about New England and New England newspapers,’’ he said. “It obviously is public knowledge that we think both The Boston Globe and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette are very important and rich franchises that we would be honored and love to own.’’