Harpswell News board members and founders and the staff of the Harpswell Anchor pose for a photo at the home of Janice Thompson, a co-founder who now serves as the Anchor’s director of development and operations.
As the Harpswell Anchor marks the completion of our first year of publication, we also have something else to celebrate: the IRS has granted us 501(c)(3) status. This means that we can accept tax-deductible donations, and that the federal government recognizes that we perform an important public service for our community.
Before this, we have been able to operate as a nonprofit thanks to the generous help of the Holbrook Community Foundation. The foundation agreed, back in April 2021, to serve as our fiscal sponsor, accepting tax-deductible gifts on our behalf so we could get up and running before too many more months went by without a local paper.
This partnership with the Holbrook Community Foundation has been instrumental in our success, and we are grateful.
Just one year ago I wrote a front-page story in the new Anchor’s first issue, introducing ourselves and our vision to the community. We launched in June 2021 without a professional editor on staff and without more than a few months’ operating money in the bank. We were lucky to fill 20 pages.
We can’t really say, though, that we were publishing the paper on a wing and a prayer. We knew better than that. We knew that our community desperately missed their local monthly newspaper and would help us get it back up and running.
And we were right. Over the past 12 months we have grown from 20 to 32 pages. Our ads are getting better and more numerous. We are now fully staffed and are governed by an active, dedicated board. And our year-end fundraising drive was more successful than we could have ever imagined.
We have been able to do all of these things thanks to the 929 donors and 269 advertising sponsors who have stepped up — some even before we published our first paper — to support our operation.
The response from our community has been fabulous and humbling. Our readers have not only provided the funding necessary to run the paper, they have also sent us words of encouragement and gratitude, like this message: “Very pleased with the way this new publication is shaping up, really professional and giving Harpswell a real sense of community. … You guys are really coming into your own, the paper is great and the writing is superb. … As a nonresident property owner, it is so wonderful to hear Harpswell news year-round. Thank you!”
Why is local, nonpartisan news so important in this day and age? Connie Sage Conner, one of the founders of the new Anchor and a current board member, says: “Democracy cannot survive without a free, open and nonpartisan press. Without the media there is no accountability, no credibility and no oversight. More than 2,000 newspapers in the U.S. have closed in the past decade. But with nonprofit information sources like the Harpswell Anchor, we know who’s running for elected office and what decisions are made by our town and our school officials. We become better, more informed citizens.”
These might seem like lofty words, especially for a small town. But our little experiment is garnering attention, not only in Harpswell but throughout the state and beyond. Last fall, Bill Nemitz, the recently retired and widely read Portland Press Herald columnist, was interested enough to come up to Harpswell to visit. He featured our project in a column entitled “Adrift without its local news, a Maine coastal town gets its ‘Anchor’ back.”
Nemitz wrote: “The experiment is working. The news, the features, the calendar listings, the ‘non-profit corner’ for other organizations to strut their stuff, now course through the community each month like a much-needed antidote to last winter’s desolation.”
We have also heard from people who want to replicate the Anchor’s success in their own communities, including groups from Berwick, Maine, and Kent, Connecticut, who feel as bereft as we did when the old Anchor folded. “How did you do it?” they asked us over and over. It seems so daunting, running a print paper in this day of digital news.
There are several elements to our “secret sauce.” First and foremost is the support of our community. It is unusual — and amazing — that such a large proportion of a town’s population has donated to a fledgling nonprofit. People have written letters to the editor, submitted calendar items and story ideas, and commented on our Facebook posts, helping us craft our news every month.
Town Administrator Kristi Eiane said, “From a local government’s perspective, we are pleased to see the Anchor’s coverage of municipal as well as school issues, and very much appreciate the paper’s role in keeping people informed. The void in community news, during the period when the Anchor ceased operations, has been skillfully filled.”
Second on the list is a bit of luck: finding the right mix of staff and board members. The current board, composed of many of the founders, is an active and talented one, bringing the necessary set of skills to the table: journalism, business, marketing, accounting. We live in a town that attracts many retirees, and these folks have the time and the dedication to lead the charge.
“The talent of the Harpswell residents who came together to restart the Anchor, and the hard work they put in, was truly impressive,” said Greg Bestick, president of the Anchor’s board. “The Anchor’s success is becoming a model for other towns who want to start a local nonprofit paper, and we’re really proud of that.”
Local businesses are grateful to have the paper back. Laurie Haggerty, owner of Roxanne York Real Estate on Bailey Island, said, “Advertising in the paper has become one of the important pieces of our marketing strategy. The Anchor has become a nice local resource of timely information and we are happy to have our message be a part of it.”
We initiated a Business Directory back in the fall to help smaller businesses advertise. Our readers have told us that they consider the Business Directory their personal yellow pages. Deane Van Dusen, who runs an invasive plant and insect treatment firm out of Harpswell Center, said, “Biome Care started advertising in the Business Directory this spring and the response has been very good, especially from Harpswell residents. You can’t beat the cost and it has more than paid for itself!”
We also regard the Anchor as an important tool to help fellow local nonprofits. Organizations like the Harpswell Heritage Land Trust, Harpswell Aging at Home, the Harpswell Invasive Plant Partnership, and local churches and fire departments all signed up for ads starting with our first issue, taking a chance on us.
“We rely on the Anchor to get the word out to people who are not online,” said LeAnne Grillo, chair of HAH’s communications team. “It’s important that we announce our gatherings and programs to everyone, not just those with computers. I look at our relationship with the Anchor as a partnership. It’s great that J.W., the editor, is open to our ideas for stories, and there is a lot more discussion going both ways.”
HHLT interim Executive Director Julia McLeod said that when the old Anchor ceased publication, the Land Trust lost an important means for communication with the community.
“We are so thrilled that the Anchor was reinstated as a nonprofit,” McLeod said. “The paper is a crucial avenue for us to get the word out about events and news, and the organization has been a wonderful community partner. Harpswell is truly lucky to have such a fantastic local newspaper!”
Now, as we enter our second year of operation and celebrate our new nonprofit status, we wish to thank every one of you — readers, donors, freelancers, volunteers, the list goes on — for “raising the Anchor” and ensuring its continued success.