Thoughts from a grateful writer

The newspaper business is a tough one. Now that we can find out what’s going on all over the world with a few clicks of a mouse, who needs a newspaper?

Not only is readership declining at most daily papers, it is no longer a source for retail advertising. Far from it.

And yet, many of us do not want to kick the habit. Before the sun is up, there is a crunch of gravel in the driveway and the thud of the newspaper hitting the porch. Duck out the front door in your bathrobe, scoop the paper off the porch or out of the mailbox and it’s off to the kitchen to put the coffee on.

Grab a pen and circle something your spouse will want to see. Rip out an article to mail to your kid. Sure, you could send an electronic link, but a clipping sent in an envelope seems more fun.

And how about that advice column that gives us tips on how to deal with co-workers who make a mess in the lunch room? Up on the bulletin board it goes. Whether savored at the kitchen table or stuffed into a handbag for reading later in the day, our morning paper is part of our life.

We all have our favorite news sources, and the big names in news are widely known. The Times, the Post, the Gazette, the Herald, the Journal of your choice is one news source. But the local papers are a whole different ball game.

Maine’s local weeklies are where we find ourselves and each other, with stories about the people and issues we know personally and care about passionately. They are where we find the news just beyond our dooryard. The publishers and editors of those newspapers live among us and matter to us.

If one were to add up the years of service given by Alan Baker, publisher of The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander, Nat Barrows, publisher and editor of Penobscot Bay Press, and editors Stephen Fay (Ellsworth American) and Earl Brechlin (Mount Desert Islander), it would reveal an extraordinary amount of time dedicated to telling the important stories of our communities.

Baker is a newsman in the truest sense. His enthusiasm for newspapers started in his youth. The newspaper he now owns is 166 years old. Baker became general manager in 1986, publisher in 1989 and owner in 1991. He has built a newspaper with a reputation far beyond its Ellsworth headquarters. This October, Baker will be inducted into the Maine Press Association Hall of Fame.

Not far from Baker’s Ellsworth American, Brechlin worked for 18 years at the Bar Harbor Times, finishing his career there as the paper’s editor. After Brechlin left that newspaper, Baker got in touch with him to talk about a new enterprise. He wanted to start a newspaper on Mount Desert Island, and he wanted Brechlin as editor. In 2001, that dream became reality.

For the next 16 years, Brechlin has been at the helm of the Islander. An editor takes flack from his readers because of what he prints and what he does not. It is the editor who decides what goes into print and what is rejected. It is the editor who asks his writers to cite a source, or to revise a piece to make it more coherent, fairer or more eloquent.

It is the editor who decides what subjects will be taken up in the all-important editorial pages, where the priorities of the newspaper are made plain and positions are taken on the most controversial issues facing our communities.

An editor is roasted for failing to include every press release sent his or her way. The editor is challenged for running stories revealing our sins of commission and omission, and for not writing up allegations of uncertain origin that some of us think deserve front-page coverage. Folks will complain the paper prints too much about some stories and not enough about others. Editors are told they should include more sports and less bad news.

Writers benefit immensely from the not-always-tender ministrations of their editors. A good writer should be able to acknowledge that his is not the only point of view, to defend his content and to accept the loss of a punctuation battle with good grace.

For 16 years, Brechlin has kept a weather eye on the towns of MDI. He is willing to listen to a case for what should be published and why, but he is not about to be talked into making decisions against his better professional judgment. Now, Brechlin is stepping down as editor of the Islander.

His deep knowledge of MDI and his love for the island, Acadia National Park and the woods and waters of Maine meant he had an eye for the right story, told the best way he knew how. He was both challenged and supported by publisher Baker, in a relationship that brought frequent accolades to the newspapers they serve. Earl, we’re happy your talents will stay local. Best of luck, from a grateful writer.

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait

Jill Goldthwait worked for 25 years as a registered nurse at Mount Desert Island Hospital. She has served as a Bar Harbor town councilor and as an independent state senator from Hancock County.

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