BAR HARBOR — This week, the Mount Desert Islander will begin its 20th year of publishing community news on Mount Desert Island.
What started as an idea by former publisher Alan Baker was taken to the next level by founding editor Earl Brechlin.
Baker, who had owned The Ellsworth American since 1991, said he wanted to start a paper on the Island to compete with the Bar Harbor Times, which was beginning to show signs of financial distress.
At the time, said Baker, the Times was on its second or third round of hedge fund investor/operators and was losing ground in the community. “It was obvious during that time that [the Bar Harbor Times] didn’t have a local presence. They were not involved in the community, and it started to show,” he said.
Baker said he and Brechlin met the Tuesday before Labor Day in 2001 to hash out their ideas. Brechlin began his first day as the Islander’s managing editor on Oct. 1. With no staff, no design concept, no name and no sales representative, the two got to work. In less than six weeks, the first issue rolled off the press.
For Baker, it was important that the newspaper serve not only the entire island, but also the outer islands such as the Cranberry Isles, Swan’s Island and Frenchboro. “I knew I didn’t want Bar Harbor in the name,” said Baker. “I wanted the other islands to feel like they were a part of this as well.”
Baker credits Brechlin for helping the paper get off the ground and earning the trust of the community. “Earl was already well known and respected,” said Baker.
Reporters, contributors and columnists have come and gone over the years, but there is one familiar face that has appeared in the first issue and remains today: Ruth Grierson. Nature is one of the paper’s most-read columns.
Three years into the new venture, said Baker, was when he realized the paper was going to be successful. It was at that time that the overall circulation of the Islander eclipsed that of the Bar Harbor Times. The Times would eventually close in 2012.
“When we passed the Bar Harbor Times in circulation, I knew we were locked in,” said Baker, adding, “To me, circulation numbers are a direct recognition by the people of the community and that is when I knew we were real.”
To celebrate the anniversary, the Islander staff has created a podcast with Baker and Brechlin. To listen, visit: https://tinyurl.com/5cn57vse.