A Community’s Anchor

Residents rally to save their local newspaper

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In 1998, Robert “Bob” Anderson started the Harpswell Anchor, a monthly newspaper in Harpswell, Maine. It was a beloved part of the community until October 2020 when Anderson decided to shut it down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, by the end of the year, a group of residents had started working together to bring the Anchor back as a nonprofit news organization.

The founding group of residents includes Janice Thompson, a career funding professional, and Doug Warren, a 32-year veteran of the newspaper business who has worked at The Portland Press Herald, The Miami Herald and The Boston Globe. Thompson now serves as the Anchor’s director of development and operations, and Warren is the vice president of the Harpswell News Board.

The Harpswell News is the umbrella organization that publishes the new Anchor. The board is composed of people who bring a variety of skills to the table, such as legal, business, journalism, fundraising, technology, and communications. The inaugural issue of the Anchor under Harpswell News was published in June and was written, edited, and produced by volunteers.

“It was a real scramble. We only had four weeks to put it together, but we really wanted to get it out for Memorial Day weekend, a kind of ‘welcome back to summer/normalcy’ sort of thing,” Thompson said.

Shortly after publication, J.W. Oliver joined the paper as editor, and Sam Allen, who wrote for the paper in the past, joined as administrative assistant. Along with Thompson, they make up the current staff of the Anchor. The paper is still printed monthly with a companion website (harpswellanchor.org). Thompson also said they may add events or workshops later.

Before even purchasing the paper, the founding group was interested in turning the Anchor into a nonprofit. Convinced a nonprofit route could work, the founding group purchased the Anchor’s intellectual assets from Anderson. They raised $38,620 to cover upfront costs, including the purchase of the assets and other legal costs.

The Anchor continues to fundraise in earnest with sponsored ads and individual donations. Currently, the paper is awaiting its 501 (c)(3) nonprofit status. In the meantime, Holbrook Community Foundation is acting as its fiscal sponsor.

Thompson said prior to its relaunch, a reader survey was mailed to about 4,300 people to learn what residents liked and disliked about the original Anchor. They received 750 responses back: about 50 percent of respondents wanted the Anchor to continue to produce soft news and feature stories, while the other nearly 50 percent said they wanted to see harder news. Oliver said they will try their best to focus on both aspects because the number one priority for them is to give Harpswell its newspaper back “(with a) new business model to build on the Anchor legacy, (and) with more coverage of local government, businesses, events, people, and public safety, as well as in-depth reporting on topics important to the present and future of Harpswell.”

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Philip S Moore

Applause to the team at the Harpswell Anchor, for choosing to bring back local news, but the 501(c)(3) model is not as beneficial as it may, at first glance, appear. There are intricate rules governing what can and cannot be published under 501(c)(3) "educational" rules. Additionally, although subscription revenue is non-taxed, advertising revenue is subject to unrelated income tax, which cannot be offset against publication costs. This translates into higher, not lower, operating expense.

Their second mistake is publishing monthly. I can recite the names of several excellent community monthlies I have known over the last several decades, not including the Cascade Park Courier, which I owned and operated for two years, and all of them failed. The reason is that most of the costs of going to press are fixed costs, such as staff and rent, which are more easily handled by spreading them over four weekly editions, rather than one monthly edition.

Saturday, August 7