Extra, Extra! This is fargin’ war!

Newspaper wars are the best kind of wars.

Typically, when newspapers go to war they are actually engaging in fierce competition.

That competition benefits both advertisers and readers.

In 2001, folks in the Biddeford-Saco area likely had no idea how lucky they were.

For a community with a population of less than 40,000, the region was being served by two daily newspapers and two weekly publications.

The Portland Press Herald had a full complement of reporters, photographers and editors stationed at their bureau on Main Street.

The Journal Tribune was still winning Maine Press Association awards and was the breeding ground for many of Maine’s best and most well-known reporters and editors, including Jack Beaudoin, Dennis Bailey, Lee Burnett, Bob Saunders, Gail Lemley and Mo Mehlsak.

David Flood, meanwhile, was busy building a small empire of weekly publications that stretched across York and Cumberland counties. The Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier was the company’s  flagship publication.

A short while later, Current Publishing was formed and began distributing the Sun Chronicle, a weekly newspaper based in Saco.

Reporters, such as Kelley Bouchard of the Press Herald; and Josh Williamson of the Journal Tribune, were scrapping  for stories with yours truly.

Good times, baby! Real good times…for the journalists, and especially for the communities they were covering.

Flood was one of the original downtown cheerleaders. He immersed himself in the community. He was fiercely competitive. Still is.

I served as editor for all of Flood’s weekly publications, and published All Along the Watchtower in the Courier. I was fiercely competitive. Still am.

But the shifting economic landscape dealt a serious blow to the region’s media outlets.

The advent of internet journalism was just kicking into high gear. Remember, in 2001 Facebook meant your got your nose crushed in a big encyclopedia.

Twitter was something that city councilors did whenever former mayor Jim Grattelo walked into a room; and a “blog” was a stain comprised of 1/3 snot, 1/3 ketchup and 1/3 ink on your new shirt.

Today, those newspapers are barely more than shadows of their former selves.

The Journal Tribune was once again sold, this time to a Pennsylvania-based media conglomerate. The staff changed dramatically. Most of the institutional knowledge was sent packing in efforts to trim the bottom line.

Reporters were expected to do more with less, a trend that was happening all over the country and shows no signs of slowing.

Meanwhile, the Portland Press Herald was having its own financial problems. The paper was later sold (and more recently sold again). The Biddeford bureau was closed. Reporters from the state’s largest daily no longer attended council meetings in City Hall.

I left the Courier in 2005. Eric Wicklund, a veteran reporter at the Journal Tribune, was hired to replace me. That was the first sign that things were getting bad. A daily reporter was taking a job at a weekly.

Wicklund lasted a few months. Several editors came and went at the Courier.

In 2007, Flood sold his weekly newspapers to the same company that purchased the Journal Tribune and the Brunswick Times Record. He then started a political career.

David Flood

The Courier continued to shrink. Its new owners are not involved in the community. Reporters cover City Hall meetings from their homes, watching the meetings on television.

The Journal Tribune is running stories from Biddeford City Council meetings as much as six days later on their front-page. Why hurry? Who’s gonna scoop them?

Flash forward five years, and Flood is getting back into the game, stirring controversy by stepping down from the city council to restart his newspaper career.

On Thursday, the American Journal, one of the newspapers owned by Current Publishing, reported that Flood was tapped to be the publisher of its York County sister newspapers.

For the record, back in the old days (before Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook) I worked at the American Journal with Kate Irish Collins, who is now a senior reporter at the Chronicle and about to become one of Flood’s newest employees) Yes, it is a small, incestuous pool . . . this local journalism thing.

Flood, who also still owns the building that houses the Courier and its sister publications, told the Courier’s owners last week they would need to find a new home.

Apparently, Flood plans to move his newest publications into the building that he owns across the street from City Hall: the place where he built the Courier into a strong weekly paper will now be the place where he works to diminish the Courier.

This news did not go over well with the Courier’s employees, many of whom are former Journal Tribune employees.

It turns out that the Courier staff will soon be housed in the Journal Tribune’s Alfred Street headquarters, where they will ostensibly be one happy family, competing against a common enemy: David Flood.

Political implications

Meanwhile, Flood’s sudden resignation from the City Council has sparked other controversy, most notably from the chair of the Downtown Development Commission (DDC), Brian Keely.

Flood won his seat in November and now, less than 90 days later, will be leaving, forcing Mayor Alan Casavant to appoint a new councilor.

Flood is expected to formally announce his resignation at Tuesday’s city council meeting, but Keely is publicly questioning Flood’s motives.

Now here’s where it gets tricky:

Keely’s wife, Molly Lovell Keely, is the editor of the Courier, one of those people who will soon be looking for boxes, packing tape and a U-Haul.

Keely’s father, Vincent, ran and lost a bid for one of the  city council’s at-large spots in November.

Another member of the DDC is Grady Sexton. Grady’s son, Bill Sexton, ran and lost against Flood for the Ward 7 Council seat, finishing second in a three-way race that included Patricia Whitehurst.

On the DDC’s Facebook page, Keely, chair of the DDC, wrote: “… I don’t have any problem with Flood doing what he loves. I do have a big issue with the fact he ran for city office, knowing full well, he would take this new job and would have to resign as councilor. I believe he made fools of the people who supported him…”

Keely also compares Flood to Kim Khardashian, and then opines that Flood is simply trying to prop his ego after losing a 2009 mayoral bid to Joanne Twomey.

I could go into all the political maneuverings, pointing out that those who supported the idea of a racino and a third-term for Twomey are politically at odds with Mayor Alan Casavant and David Flood.

I could opine that Casavant ought to appoint someone from that political camp to fill Flood’s vacancy…. say Bill Sexton or someone else who lives in Ward Seven….but I want to watch a bit more….

They say that all politics are local; and I say local politics are some of the best politics.

Throw in a newspaper war, and well, … it just doesn’t get much better for a guy who blogs about local politics and media.

Somebody start the popcorn. It’s going to be a hell of a show….

And maybe, just maybe, the newspaper business will come back to life….it’s just too bad it took a war.


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