The July 26 edition of The Portland Phoenix, a weekly newspaper covering the Greater Portland area, was its last. Staff photo

The Portland Phoenix, a weekly news and arts publication covering Greater Portland, put out its last issue Wednesday – despite efforts to keep the free paper going through the pandemic and an increasingly tough media environment.

Majority owner and editor Marian McCue, for decades a stalwart of the newspaper business in southern Maine, said the Phoenix ultimately could not rise in a market where too many people expect to stream news for free and without ads.

“I’m exhausted and heartbroken,” McCue said Wednesday. “I just couldn’t do it anymore.”

Launched originally in 1999, the Phoenix shut down in 2019. McCue, who owned and edited the weekly Forecaster from 1990-2006, and Karen Wood, longtime Forecaster publisher, acquired and restarted the Phoenix in late 2019, forming New Portland Publishing Inc.

Since then, McCue said, she hasn’t drawn a salary, hoping the sacrifice would help breathe life into an enterprise where advertising revenue covered only one-quarter of expenses.

“The financial losses were significant and not improving,” said McCue, 71. “I didn’t buy this newspaper to make money. I wanted to provide in-depth news and arts coverage. We wanted to publish seven days a week. We just couldn’t do it.”


Wood, co-owner and publisher, said the COVID-19 pandemic hit just five months after the Phoenix restarted, and kept the newspaper’s planned advertising strategy from taking hold.

“We started to make contacts with advertisers, but everybody pulled back after the pandemic, and the recovery has just been too slow,” Wood said.

McCue said for her the worst aspect of shutting down the Falmouth-based tabloid was notifying its seven employees.

“I never want to hire people again,” she said. “I’m grateful for their hard work, but you can’t ask people to do a good job in something that’s not going to work out. I tried to do the best we could with severance.”

The loss of an alternative news source in Portland at this time – when Maine’s largest city is growing and residents need to be well-informed – is particularly disheartening, said Michael Socolow, professor of communication and journalism at the University of Maine.

“But it’s also a sign of the times in the media business,” Socolow said in a written statement. “The Portland Phoenix played an important but understated role in Maine journalism. It performed a vital political and civic function in the city of Portland, covering local politics in depth and in alternative ways from other media.”


Sharon Ross, a journalism instructor at the University of Southern Maine, also mourned the continued loss of community newspapers.

“The more voices we lose in the journalism world, the harder it is for people to keep track of what’s happening in their communities,” Ross said. “Watchdog journalism is crucial to well-informed communities.”


The Phoenix began in September 1999 as one of several alternative weekly newspapers owned by the flagship newspaper, The Boston Phoenix, run since the 1960s by Stephen M. Mindich. The title was sold in 2014 to the owners of the Conway Daily Sun, in Conway, New Hampshire. They published it until shuttering the paper in February 2019.

Under McCue’s leadership, the Portland Phoenix won recognition from the Maine Press Association for writing excellence and took first place for general excellence in the association’s 2021 and 2022 annual awards.

McCue’s journalism career began as editor of a daily newspaper at the University of Wisconsin. She then worked for an alternative magazine in New York City, and newspapers in Massachusetts and Westbrook. After leaving the Forecaster in 2006, she worked as a communications specialist for the ACLU of Maine, then wrote a political column for the Forecaster. She was inducted into the Maine Press Association Hall of Fame in October 2019.


Wood has worked in the weekly newspaper industry for more than 30 years. She was co-owner of the original Falmouth Forecaster, and continued working in production, sales and administration after the paper was sold. She served as publisher of the expanded Forecaster group of newspapers for more than 20 years, responsible for all aspects of the business operation.

McCue said several people have asked if she and Wood considered becoming a nonprofit, noting the pending purchase of five of Maine’s six daily newspapers – including the Portland Press Herald and other assets of Masthead Maine – by the nonprofit National Trust for Local News.

The deal also includes the Sun Journal in Lewiston, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, the Morning Sentinel in Waterville, the Times Record in Brunswick and the Forecaster group.

“We didn’t have the resources to pursue something like that,” McCue said. “We did pursue buyers, but it didn’t work out.”

McCue and Wood said they are unsure of their future plans, beyond getting through the shutdown and recuperating through the summer. McCue didn’t rule out the possibility that the Phoenix may return in some other form, or that she may return to journalism again.

“Who knows?” she said. “I love news. I’m an addict. I’m a meat-and-potatoes news person.”

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