Maine Trust for Local News announced Tuesday that Mark Stodder will serve as chairman of its Community Board. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — A new Community Board established by the Maine Trust for Local News held its initial meeting June 4 to offer local input to leaders of the company that owns the Sun Journal, Portland Press Herald, Morning Sentinel, Kennebec Journal and many other newspapers in Maine.

Elizabeth Hansen Shapiro, CEO of the nonprofit National Trust for Local News, which owns the Maine Trust, said the advisory panel offers a way to move toward the company’s goal of “long-term sustainability.”

Part of making that happen, she said, is figuring out “what kind of services people want to see,” building better community relations and reaching new audiences.

In short, Shapiro said, the aim is to build the Maine Trust into “a community institution” with deep, wide roots.

The advent of the Community Board is “an important milestone in that work,” according to a prepared statement from Shapiro and Lisa DeSisto, CEO of the Maine Trust.

The new eight-member advisory board, which the company said brings together Mainers who offer “deep dedication and diversity of experience,” met for a few hours at the Sun Journal’s Lisbon Street office.

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With the creation of the board, which is likely to grow in size, the trust has fulfilled a promise it made when it bought five daily newspapers and 17 weekly ones from Maine publisher Reade Brower last summer, though it took eight months longer to form the panel than officials initially expected.

Shapiro said the process took more time than expected because a development committee charged with creating the board needed months to winnow a list of about 50 people who expressed interest in serving. The company wanted a diverse group that could offer insight on possible new events, partnerships and ways of doing things, she said.

It worked out well, Shapiro said, because “they have a lot of terrific ideas” that will help the Maine Trust build stronger community ties.

At the time, National Trust leaders also said they would disclose where the nonprofit got the money to buy the Maine papers in September 2023. So far, that has not happened. But the Maine Trust’s website does have a list of its donors.

Among the members of the new board is Shanna Cox, president of the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. She said Tuesday that she feels energized by the company’s commitment to Maine.

She said she is happy the newspapers are eager to “inform and promote the assets of the region and not just (report on) the challenges” it faces.

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“This board is leading the way,” Cox said.

Also on the panel are Sam Hight of Skowhegan, former state Sen. Roger Katz of Augusta, Josephine Katandula of Portland, Donna Loring of Bradley, Georges Budago Makoko of Westbrook, Karen Miller Pensiero of Mount Desert and Mark Stodder of Cape Elizabeth.

“We want this board to widen our vantage on life in the state; lend serious intellectual and experiential capital to our growth and innovation plans; help us ensure that mission reaches and impacts the maximum number of Mainers; and support us in finding new allies of all kinds — sources of funding, talent, partnership, and ideas,” DeSisto and Shapiro said in a memorandum to Maine Trust employees.

“We hope you feel the momentum underfoot – the work we do together every day is what makes it possible!” they said.

Stodder, chairman of the new board, has built a career helping to make government more transparent, spur civic engagement and reinvent local news. “It says a lot,” he said, that the company is creating “a board like this” that can “really engage the community” to find ways to ensure reliable and sustainable news.

Loring, an author and former tribal representative of the Penobscot nation, said she feels honored to be part of the panel.

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“It’s a fantastic thing,” she said, and something she wouldn’t do if she didn’t think it was such an important project. Loring said it’s great that the papers are “reaching out” to the community to find more stories and talk to a wide range of people directly.

Hight is a car dealer and philanthropist. Katandula is a bank executive. Makoko is president of the Ladder to the Moon Network. Pensiero is a former managing editor of The Wall Street Journal.

“We are excited to benefit from the expertise of each of these fantastic community voices as we work to grow the reach and sustainability of our journalism,” DeSisto and Shapiro said in their statement.

The Maine Trust is a low-profit limited liability company, known as an L3C, which has a mission to support education and charitable purposes. It pays taxes on some of its activities, like advertising and other commercial elements, but its purpose by law cannot be to maximize profits or hold property as an investment.

Officials with both the Maine and National trusts have said repeatedly they expect the Maine Trust to turn a small profit each year by selling advertising and subscriptions as well as from commercial printing.

Shapiro said profits will be invested back into the company instead of putting money into an owner’s pocket, the traditional model. Her hope is that by running the Maine Trust as a business, and trying to avoid losses, it can operate well into the future without the necessity of a constant infusion of donated funds.

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She said it’s a model for “quality, independent journalism” to flourish while also ensuring strong ties to Maine communities.

Shapiro said that so far, things are working out as planned, despite “a challenging environment” for media companies everywhere. She said the power of local news leaves her hopeful that the future of journalism will be brighter than anyone in the business could have guessed during the past several decades.

“It’s an exciting time to be working on projects like this,” Stodder said. “You end up full of optimism.”

Steve Collins — 207-689-2849

scollins@sunjournal.com

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