Publisher Alan Baker (left) and editor Earl Brechlin accept awards on behalf of the Mount Desert Islander at a New England Press Association conference in the early years of the Islander.  ISLANDER FILE PHOTO

Islander launched in turbulent times

BAR HARBOR — The decision to start the Mount Desert Islander in 2001 resulted from shifting patterns of ownership in the industry and a desire to publish a newspaper responsive to the readership it serves in the same tradition of the many community institutions established on Mount Desert Island over the past 150 years. 

Prior to 1999, the Bar Harbor Times was part of Courier Publications, owned by RK Warren, the father of Rick Warren, owner of the Bangor Daily News. The Times had been in business for more than 70 years. 

In 1999, estate and succession planning resulted in the company being sold to Jeremy L. Halbreich’s American Consolidated Media of Dallas, Texas. 

After two years, he sold to a group of investors headquartered in Greenville, S.C. – Crescent Publishing, run by Bern Mebane. At that time, the Times was extremely profitable, showing a return more than four times the national average. But, that apparently was not enough for the new owner’s investors. 

Within two weeks of the closing, editors and managers were called to the head office in Rockland and sworn to secrecy. Investors, it seemed, had been promised an even higher return. To reach that goal, managers were given the weekend to think it over and come up with the names of employees they were going to fire to cut costs enough to hit that target. As editor of the Times, I was directed to cut two full-time and one half-time positions. No one at the paper at that time had worked there for less than 10 years. Some had been there more than 40. 

On Monday I phoned in my decision. I told the new bosses I could not do what they ordered. I could think of just one position to cut. I gave them a month’s notice.  

As news of my resignation spread, I was contacted a few days later by Alan Baker, publisher and owner of The Ellsworth American, who suggested we have a brown bag lunch on the porch of the Maine Sea Coast Mission’s headquarters, La Rochelle, in Bar Harbor. Baker, a native son of Maine, floated the idea of a new paper to compete with the South Carolinians. Over the next month, under bright autumn skies for a time devoid of jet contrails in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, a name for the new paper was picked, the design and typography was finalized, an office was rented and staff was hired. Two weeks prior to the first issue on Nov. 15, desks were still being assembled and there was not a single story on the file server. Somehow we pulled it all off. 

Ironically, having gotten wind of the new competitor, Crescent Publishing postponed its plans to reduce staff at the Times. 

Eventually, Mebane sold out to Camden resident Richard Anderson, owner of VillageSoup, in 2008. Anderson’s company bled red ink and ceased operations without notice, shutting down papers in Rockland, Camden, Belfast, Augusta and Bar Harbor in March of 2012. Residents in all but one of those communities awoke on March 10 to discover they were without a vital community institution.  

But thanks to an entrepreneurial leap of faith a decade earlier, Mount Desert Island still had a newspaper that has continued to thrive and is now entering into its third decade. 

Earl Brechlin was the Islander’s founding editor and remained at the paper for 16 years. 

Earl Brechlin

Earl Brechlin

Editor at Mount Desert Islander
Former Islander editor Earl Brechlin first discovered Mount Desert Island 35 years ago and never left. The author of seven guide and casual history books, he is a Registered Maine Guide and has served as president of the Maine and New England Press Associations. He and his wife live in Bar Harbor.
Earl Brechlin

Latest posts by Earl Brechlin (see all)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.