Not to just repeat my own headline, but the future of the Portland Phoenix, an alternative weekly newspaper that has been an award-winning mainstay of the city’s media scene for 15 years, is in doubt after a proposed sale from a regional management group to local ownership fell through.
In addition to its strong research- and investigation-based weekly cover stories, the Portland Phoenix has been long known for its annual “Best of Portland” awards, reader-chosen favorites which local businesses, bartenders, musicians and comedians have worn as badges of honor.
But today, Everett Finkelstein, chief operating officer of The Phoenix Media/Communications Group, the company that owns the Portland Phoenix, told the Portland Press Herald a sale of the newspaper to one of its local employees “is not going to move forward.”
Finkelstein attributed the demise of the sale proposal, which had been rumored for weeks, to financial problems.
John Marshall, general manager of the Portland Phoenix, told me he couldn’t comment on who the local buyer was or any financial figures, whether related to the sale or the overall strength of the newspaper.
When asked if this week’s edition of the Portland Phoenix will be the last edition, Marshall said: “I have no idea. I wish I did.”
The Portland Phoenix is the last surviving newspaper in what was once a four-paper regional network that included Phoenix papers in Providence, Rhode Island, and Worcester and Boston, Massachusetts.
The Worcester Phoenix folded in 2000 after eight years running, the Boston Phoenix shut down in 2013 after nearly five decades in business and the Providence Phoenix ceased publication this month, ending 36 years of publication.
In 2012, the Boston Globe reported that The Phoenix Media/Communications Group unloaded its other media properties, including the Spanish-language newspaper El Planeta and Boston-area radio station WFNX 101.7 FM.
The most recent two closures — in Boston and Providence — cast a foreboding Agatha Christie-type shadow over the Portland Phoenix, and Finkelstein told the Press Herald it no longer made sense for the Boston-based management group to manage human resources and other administrative tasks for just one newspaper in a different state.
But he also said the management group is open to seeking another buyer that could keep the Portland Phoenix alive.
In a statement released earlier this month about the decision to shutter the Providence Phoenix, Finkelstein blamed the downfall of the Rhode Island paper on diminishing print advertising revenues and increasing production costs — trends that have caused problems for print publications all over the country.
But without any inside knowledge about the Portland Phoenix’ bank statements, it long appeared from the outside to be the most financially stable of the Phoenix papers, always keeping enough advertising to fill out around 50 pages of content (newspapers get thinner when there aren’t enough ads to justify printing as many pages) and never needing to follow the Boston Phoenix’ desperate, last moment reinvention as a glossy magazine.
Peter Kadzis, executive editor of the Boston Phoenix, told the Globe in 2013 the Portland Phoenix was better able to support itself on local advertising, but he also said that about the Providence edition.