LC Van Savage moved to Brunswick in 1974, and soon after began contributing features pieces to the Times Record. In time, she became a columnist and was still writing for the paper when, four or five months ago, she noticed that her checks were no longer arriving.
She initially thought nothing of it, for the paper had been late with payments before. But when weeks of waiting turned to months, she contacted her editor, asking for written assurance that the Times Record would pay up. He said he could not do that, so she decided to stop writing.
Van Savage still wanted, though, to claim the $500 or so the paper owed her. She attempted to contact Robert Long, the paper's managing editor, as well as others on the paper's business side, to no avail.
"Every email I've sent over there has been not answered," Van Savage said. "Every phone call I've gotten through with has been ignored." She still has not been paid, and she is not the only one.
William Bushnell has been writing book reviews for the Times Record for the past 15 years, and was notified in March that his last column for the paper would run in April. Times Record Features Editor Jonathan White told Bushnell that a decision was made to let go all freelance contributors by the end of April. Bushnell reported that he is currently awaiting payment that is three months overdue. White could not be reached by press time.
Bushnell said that for the past two years, the Times Record has been consistently two months late on payments. Whenever he broached the subject with management in the past, he was eventually compensated.
While Bushnell still expects to receive his outstanding payment, he said, "this month I haven't had anyone return my phone calls...it's hard to get in touch with management there."
Buchnell added, "working for the Times Record has been a great experience, I enjoy doing it...these are business decisions that someone is making because they have a problem with cash flow."
The Orient left voice messages for Robert Long and also visited the Times Record's office, but neither he nor the paper's business manager returned calls.
Gina Hamilton, former editor of the Coastal Journal in Bath and now editor in chief of the recently launched New Maine Times, said that multiple people on the staff of New Maine Times formerly freelanced for the Times Record, but left the paper because they weren't being compensated. Hamilton also noted that the Times Record failed to notify those freelancers of its inability to pay them, and did not acknowledge the situation.
Hamilton noted that from her experience working with local Maine newspapers, in order to be financially viable in the long-term a paper must generate at least 40 percent of its revenue in advertisements. From her understanding of the Times Record's advertising distribution, Hamilton guessed that it is unlikely the paper is reaching this threshold.
The Times Record, which had been owned by the Niven family of Brunswick for more than a century, was sold to Sample News Group last year. Sample News Group, based in Corry, Pa., owns a number of local papers throughout the country including the Kennebunk Post and Journal Tribune, in Biddeford.
The Orient contacted writers and contributors at other Maine papers owned by Sample News Group, but none of them reported similar problems. A voice message left at Sample News Group's headquarters did not receive a response.
However, at least one person has successfully lobbied the Times Record. David Treadwell '64, of Brunswick, wrote several columns for the Times Record beginning in early February. When he grew tired of waiting to be compensated, he too was unable to elicit a response as to why. After numerous phone calls went ignored, he wrote the paper a strongly worded email.
"I said I would like to be assured I was going to be paid, and if I wasn't assured that, then I would assume that I wouldn't be," he said. "I told them I wasn't going to go quietly into the night."
"The tricky thing was, they didn't say at the outset when they would pay me," he noted. "I suppose it was well beyond 45 days, but what got me was that they ignored my simple request. That is just wrong. The paper should treat well and value the people who write for it."
Treadwell was paid in full by the Times Record on April 14. A longtime reader of the newspaper, he said it had declined in quality since the sale to Sample News Group.
"There is less content," said Treadwell. "They have trimmed the fat and trimmed fat. There are fewer writers."
None of the contributors the Orient spoke with had written contracts with the Times Record. Peter Drum of Parson & Drum Attorneys LLC in Damariscotta, said that the absence of a written contract does not mean that the contributors did not have a “contract” to receive payment from the paper. With only general knowledge of the situation, Drum said that failure to compensate contributors could be handled by a small claims court. If the court found that there was no contract, it would consider the doctrines of unjust enrichment and promissory estoppel, and the compensation would likely be awarded.
[Editor's note: The Bowdoin Orient is printed by the Times Record.]