Though he’ll add two more Maine weeklies – the Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander – to his ever-expanding newspaper holdings Sept. 1, Reade Brower still maintains that he hasn’t been following a strategy or grand acquisition plan.
But the Camden entrepreneur conceded Wednesday that it’s time for that to change.
“There is no plan,” he said, after the announcement that he would purchase the Ellsworth and MDI papers from publisher and owner Alan Baker. “However, it is time to formulate one. We have begun to think about it as an organization. And over the next six months, we will develop and begin to implement one. Too early to discuss any specifics.”
Brower said Phase 1 will be identifying those specifics – “who are we, what do we stand for, where do we want to go, who do we answer to. These are some of the questions that we will begin to answer.”
His latest acquisition includes the 167-year-old Ellsworth American and its sister paper, the Mount Desert Islander, which Baker created 17 years ago, as well as their buildings and press in Ellsworth. The Maine Press Association recognized the Islander for General Excellence in weekly print newspapers last fall, and the Ellsworth American came in second.
This purchase will raise Brower’s newspaper ownership tally to six of Maine’s seven dailies (all but the Bangor Daily News, which he prints), 21 weeklies and numerous other publications. The dailies were all purchased within the past few years – the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram, the Kennebec Journal in Augusta, and Morning Sentinel in Waterville in 2015, the Sun Journal in Lewiston in 2017, and the Times Record in Brunswick and Biddeford Journal Tribune earlier this year.
With the further expansion of his newspaper empire, Brower noted via email Wednesday that “we will continue to offer as much autonomy to each organization as possible.”
“We want to remain a family of businesses that recognizes that each paper is individual, not a clone – just like each child in a family is an individual. It is expected and hoped that each follow a family crest when it comes to a moral and ethical code, but each has its own individual traits that are honored and nurtured. We do not want to be a chain of newspapers.”
Brower said he has “admired the work of Alan Baker, and his papers, over 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.”
Brower wrote that he wouldn’t talk about specifics of the Ellsworth and MDI purchases until after the sale goes through. “Out of respect and constraint, I think that as long as Alan owns the papers, I should not be talking or speculating about what will or won’t happen.”
Baker said Wednesday that his age made selling his award-winning papers an “inevitability.” He’ll turn 89 on Aug. 7, and leave his position as publisher on or before Aug. 31 – “I need to get out of the way and let folks be on their own.”
“My age was the driving force, but the fact that Reade and I have been friends for 25 years made it an easy choice,” he said. “I admire what he has done and what he’s doing.”
Baker said he felt compelled to comment on recent criticism of Brower over him owning a large percentage of Maine’s newspapers.
“This so-called ‘media mogul’ reputation was just cooked up by The New York Times (which dubbed Brower with that title in a story last fall). There’s nothing dangerous about what Reade is doing. There’s nothing dangerous about all the dailies being printed in one location, for example. Newspapers are very dependent on available presses. So they’re printed in one place – it’s efficient. But they’re as different as the personalities that manage them. That’s his (Brower’s) genius. He’s comfortable letting that happen.”
Baker, who had a serious health issue in March when a cancerous tumor “the size of a lemon” was removed from his chest, said Thursday that he and Brower had a “friendly lunch” in April at which they initially discussed the possibility of this latest sale.
“We just got together and one thing led to another,” he said, noting that his longtime friend will be responsible for hiring his replacement.
“Reade’s style of ownership and management is extraordinarily appealing to our team because he lets people do their thing. That’s a major advantage,” said Baker, who was inducted into the MPA’s Hall of Fame last fall and also was honored in 2011 with the highest tribute in community journalism – the James O. Amos Award – by the National Newspaper Association.
“We have a wonderful culture, and the team will be able to retain and maintain that culture,” he said. “Our folks are very enthusiastic about the opportunities this represents. They’ve been very supportive and understanding.”
Baker said he has his energy back after recovering from his spring surgery and is looking forward, having opted not to have follow-up chemotherapy and radiation treatments, given his age. “For me, the quality of life is more important than the length of life.”
He said he’s looking forward to “getting my own life in order and working on a biography of my late mother.” Ethel B. Baker served as town clerk in Baker’s hometown of Orrington for 21 years and seven terms in the Maine House of Representatives.
Her son said he also plans to spend more time with friends and with three nephews, who will be coming together to celebrate his birthday from San Francisco; Breckinridge, Colo., and Providence, R.I. “Their dad died at a young age, and I’ve been a surrogate dad to them ever since, as they’ve been surrogate children to me.”
Asked if he thought the transition from daily newspaper life to retirement would be challenging, Baker answered with an emphatic “No!”
“I was vice chairman of a Fortune 500 company, and I decided to take a year off when I turned 50. It was easy! The next sabbatical should be equally easy.”