Press Herald editor-in-chief retires after 45-year journalistic career

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Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram editor-in-chief Cliff Schechtman, who arrived in the newsroom in 2011 as the newspaper headed for bankruptcy and helped turn the tide by focusing on surveillance journalism and community, announced his retirement on Friday.

“I have lived the life of a journalist for 45 years, and I am ready to be a civilian again – if I remember how. I will be 66 in January and now is a good time to change my life, ”he wrote in an email to the newspaper staff. “I am proud of what we have accomplished together and honored to have guided our journalism over the past decade.”

Schechtman’s last day is December 17 Gregory A. Rec / Personal Photographer

Lisa DeSisto, editor of the Press Herald and managing director of Masthead Maine, its umbrella newspaper and website company, said current editor-in-chief Steve Greenlee will become editor-in-chief when Schechtman retires on December 17.

Schechtman’s legacy as a reporter in Maine is his “steady hand at the head of the newsroom through 10 years of change – change of ownership, change of office space and change in the way we broadcast. the news, ”DeSisto said. “When Cliff came here, we had no digital subscribers. We now have more digital subscribers than weekday home delivery subscribers. He has been responsible for growing readership across multiple platforms.

Digital subscriptions now represent over 50 percent of the Press Herald’s total daily circulation, which is 38,374, with home delivery at 42% and number sales at 7%. Home delivery represented 73% of all newspaper sales in 2012.

The newspaper’s offices were once in downtown Portland and are now located in South Portland at the printing plant, although most employees continue to work remotely due to the pandemic. And the ownership of the newspaper has changed twice since Schechtman’s arrival.

Schechtman chats with web editor Katherine Lee in the Press Herald newsroom in South Portland in 2019. Derek Davis / Personal Photographer

His ten-year tenure as editor was crowned by his leadership in the newsroom during the pandemic, DeSisto said. “Cliff built a great team of editors, reporters and photographers, and when the pandemic struck, the team responded,” she said.

Schechtman arrived in Maine from Long Island, New York, where he had worked as an associate editor at Newsday and conducted a safety investigation of the nation’s largest commuter railroad which became a finalist for the award. Pulitzer. At the Press Herald, he oversaw another Pulitzer finalist, the “Mayday” climate change project.

Prior to Newsday, he ran the Cape Cod Times in Massachusetts and the Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader in Pennsylvania, where in 1991 he and other newspaper executives were arrested and charged with breaking the law of the ‘Status on wiretapping for posting an interview with a murder suspect who was convicted of murdering his wife. The interview was taped, but the district attorney said the murder suspect was unaware it was taped. Schechtman faces seven years in prison if convicted.

The case was resolved when a new district attorney took office, examined her, and dropped the charges, but the episode emboldened Schechtman’s commitment to surveillance journalism. He and his colleagues were sued, he said, “by misguided officials who saw an opportunity to obtain a pound of flesh.” … You must stand firm, and we have stood firm.

Among those arrested with Schechtman in 1991 was Dale Duncan, then editor of Schechtman in Pennsylvania. When Duncan arrived at the Press Herald with a former property group, he recruited Schechtman to be the newspaper’s editor in October 2011. Schechtman became editor the following February.

He came for the lifestyle change Maine promised, as well as the opportunity to pursue a career as an editor that had focused on investigative surveillance journalism. But it was a dark time for the Press Herald with layoffs and downsizing, and the paper was on the verge of bankruptcy.

Schechtman lucked out with the timing. A week before becoming editor-in-chief, philanthropist S. Donald Sussman loaned the newspaper between $ 3 million and $ 4 million in exchange for a stake in the company. Schechtman quickly hired a dozen reporters and began to replenish the staff.

“I wanted to find people who had the depth and sophistication to do journalism that readers would respond to, which for me, accountability journalism was high on the list. Reporting on the forces that impact people’s lives had to be a top priority, ”he said. “But at the same time, I wanted the sophistication of a really good food blanket and a really good artistic blanket. There are only two types of stories: stories that teach me something or stories that touch me emotionally on some level. I wanted people who could fulfill these missions.

Among his first hires was Greenlee, who became editor of the Press Herald in July 2012. Greenlee worked at the Boston Globe in a variety of roles, including as editor. He also reviewed jazz, reflecting a love of music that continues today with his membership in two Portland-area groups, Sons of Quint and Under the Covers.

Greenlee, 52, had previously worked at the Press Herald, joining the staff as a Town Hall reporter in 1993, becoming editor of the Night Town at the age of 24 and eventually editor before leaving for the Globe in 2000. He began his career in the press at the University of Rhode Island, where he edited the college newspaper.

Greenlee said he plans to continue Schechtman’s commitment to surveillance journalism and the interpretation of cultural trends.

Steve Greenlee, editor of the Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram, will take over as editor when Schechtman retires in December. Gregory A. Rec / Personal Photographer

“The challenge is to continue to be sustainable, finding ways to fund journalism that does not rely on traditional methods. Half of our subscribers are digital subscribers. The challenge is to deliver news in a form that they want to receive. Equally important is providing them with printed paper, a robust website and a mobile experience that lives up to their expectations, ”said Greenlee. “If they want holograms in the future, so will we.”

In his email to staff, Schechtman cited reporting projects over the past decade that have gained national acclaim and improved the lives of readers, including “The Challenge of Our Age,” the heroine series “Lost And the series on the housing crisis “No Vacancy. “

Of the newspaper’s COVID-19 coverage, Schechtman said in an interview, “The pandemic came at a time when we were building muscle memory in the newsroom where context is paramount. You have to find the truth, not just what the officials are saying. It is not journalism. Reporting on what they say is not journalism. Finding the truth is hard work. This is what the readers were asking for. We held the people responsible for what they did, what they reported and what they said to the world, and I think we helped educate people and keep them safe. “

A carpenter, stained glass artist, and accomplished green thumb, retired Schechtman’s first project involves planing a maple slab and turning it into a table for his wife’s succulents. He could write on the side.

At this critical moment in history, when the foundations of democracy are being challenged, journalism matters more than ever, he said.

“What’s very troubling now is the misinformation that technology allows. I have been saying this for many years. I believe social media is the greatest threat to democracy we’ve ever seen. I believe there is more harm than good that comes with it, because of the way the dark forces use social media to misinform the public.

“There was a time when people could agree on basic facts,” he continued. “We can no longer agree on the basic facts. There is no democracy without a strong and free press. We are the heart of democracy and our role has never been more important.


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