ELLSWORTH — The Ellsworth American is embarking on the next chapter of its 167-year history under new ownership.
Alan Baker, owner of The American and its sister paper, the Mount Desert Islander, announced Wednesday that he has entered into a purchase and sale agreement for the two newspapers with Maine media entrepreneur Reade Brower of Rockland.
Brower is owner of six of the state’s seven daily newspapers (all but the Bangor Daily News) and 19 Maine weeklies.
“The Ellsworth American has a long legacy of excellence and the Mount Desert Islander complements that legacy providing its own quality, award-winning journalism,” Brower said Tuesday. “Who wouldn’t want them in the family?
“I have admired the work of Alan Baker, and his papers, over the decades I’ve been privileged to call him a colleague and a friend. Alan is a true champion of journalism in Maine and we will do our best to maintain and continue the journey.
“With Ellsworth and Bar Harbor contiguous to the Courier Group (Belfast Republican Journal, Camden Herald, Rockland Courier-Gazette), it will create many synergies and opportunities for the weekly newspapers along the Downeast and the Midcoast areas. A ‘win-win-win’ for staff, readers and our advertisers.”
Baker, who turns 89 next week, is upbeat about the transfer of ownership.
“The American and Islander folks have been my surrogate family these past 32 years,” Baker said. “And I have been extraordinarily proud of their weekly efforts to report on the people and activities of Hancock and nearby Washington County communities.
“This moment is bittersweet, but entirely appropriate. I have known Reade Brower since his publishing success, the Free Press in Rockland. Reade has assembled, and effectively oversees, a diverse group of daily and weekly Maine newspapers.
“With this new ownership, the stability and local coverage provided by these remarkable newspapers is assured, while continuing under the leadership of our award-winning team.”
Baker, who lives in his hometown of Orrington, joined The American staff in 1986. He was named publisher in 1989, and purchased the paper in January 1991 from James Russell Wiggins. Wiggins, former editor of The Washington Post and briefly U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, spent more than 30 years as editor of the paper. He transformed the small-town weekly into an award-winning and nationally recognized publication.
Together, The American and Islander employ a combined staff of 60.
“Alan has upheld the journalistic standards of the Wiggins years while supporting our newspapers’ journey into the 21st century,” said Terry Carlisle, general manager of The American and Islander. “He has been a wonderful teacher, boss, leader, friend and everything one could look for in a good mentor. He has groomed the management team to be sound professionals ready to face this exciting new opportunity.”
“And, it is an opportunity for growth,” Carlisle continued. “This merger offers additional printing for our newspaper press, wider circulation for our advertising products and access to new colleagues and collaborators throughout the state of Maine. We look forward to working with Reade and his newspaper teams.”
The American, with a print circulation of 8,200, is the second-oldest weekly in the state. First known as The Ellsworth Herald, it was founded on Oct. 17, 1851, by Bangor men Elijah Couillard and W.B. Hilton.
The Bar Harbor-based Islander was launched by Baker in 2001 and has a circulation of 4,500.
After 27 years under Baker’s leadership, new ownership represents a major change. However, business will carry on as usual, according to the management team. The newspaper will continue its longtime mission to report on Hancock County news.
The terms of the sale, which is due to close Aug. 31, were not disclosed.