You have in your hands the last edition of The Ellsworth American or Mount Desert Islander to be published under the ownership of Alan Baker. He has been owner and publisher of The Ellsworth American since 1991, and founded the Islander in 2001. His retirement is the end of a distinguished career in service to community newspapers and to we, the readers.
Alan had his eye on The Ellsworth American for years before he became the owner. During that long wait and before, he worked on the East Coast in newspapers, publishing and business, developing the range of skills that would serve him so well when he finally became the owner of The American.
For a “community” newspaper, The Ellsworth American had an unusual scope. Under the distinguished leadership of former Washington Post editorial page editor Russell Wiggins, denizens of our nation’s capital kept an eye on our local paper. With Alan at the helm, The Ellsworth American could still be found on the desks of many a congressional office.
In addition to the necessary background, Alan brought character and personality that added immeasurably to both his job and to the life of his community, a community that includes anywhere within the reach of his newspapers.
Ask anyone what Alan is like and the word “gentleman” is sure to come up. He looks the part, with silver hair with a few curls that occasionally escape the discipline of a comb, dark-rimmed glasses that scream “library,” and a joyful “heh heh heh” chortle he unleashes at the least provocation. He is impeccably groomed and dressed, almost always in a tie, and his saddle shoes are the stuff of legend. None other than Sen. Susan Collins, a longstanding friend, gave him a gentle ribbing about his sartorial splendor at an MDI event at which he was being honored.
The role of gentleman is more than skin deep. Unfailingly polite, he is always ready to hear a writer or reader out. A native of Orrington, he has a deep attachment to Ellsworth and has worked tirelessly to promote the city and to initiate or support changes to help with economic development.
He gives his staff plenty of latitude, but there is never a doubt where Alan stands on the issues of the day. A contrary opinion might earn one an Alan-gram — your own writing copied and returned with vigorous scratchings all around the edges, challenging you on your facts, the merits of your case or the conclusions to which you came.
There are sins you do not commit under Alan’s leadership, or at least not more than once. Errors of fact. (Have a source.) Errors of judgment. (If your opinion differs from his you will hear about it, complete with the rationale for his side of the question.) Stiff or pedantic writing. (“Go at it as if you are writing a letter to the readers,” he would say.)
Alan received a stack of awards over the course of his publishing career, including the James O. Amos Award, which the National Newspaper Association says is “recognized as one of the highest and most dignified tributes in community journalism.” He was inducted into the Maine Press Association Hall of Fame in October 2017.
Despite the many challenges facing print journalism in a digital era, Alan persevered. In the face of the “fake news” assault on the press coming from the highest levels of the United States government, on Jan. 26, 2017, Alan and his staff changed the masthead to read: “Real people. Real places. Real news.” There is nothing fake about Alan Baker or the newspapers he published. He set the standard for reporting local news fairly and accurately. When he was wrong, he said so.
The new owner of our two local newspapers is Reade Brower, who now owns 25 daily and weekly newspapers in Maine. In a Maine Public interview, Alan described Brower as having a “reputation for keeping his hands off newsrooms’ daily operations.” Though some might worry about that much news ownership in a single pair of hands, Alan anticipates “intelligent consolidation” under Brower’s ownership. “Multiple news presses in multiple communities can’t stay viable in the age of internet advertising and publishing,” he said.
In the Alan Baker era there was one last journalistic sin not mentioned above. Do not ever use what Alan calls “the vertical pronoun.” That would be the word “I.” Journalism, even opinion writing, is about the reader, not the writer. So it is with some trepidation that I commit that ultimate sin to say: Alan, thank you for giving me the opportunity and responsibility of a place on the op-ed page of your newspaper. I have grown as a writer under your guidance, and I will miss you.