PORTLAND – Alan L. Baker thinks hyper-local coverage has allowed his weekly community newspapers to thrive in a tumultuous industry.

“We produce the information that none of (the) dailies can afford to accumulate,” said Baker, 82, the owner and publisher of Bar Harbor’s Mount Desert Islander and 160-year-old The Ellsworth American. “We cover the births and the graduations, the marriages and the deaths and the local sports. We report on our neighbors.”

Earlier last week, Baker, who started working in the newspaper industry in 1960, was named winner of the National Newspaper Association’s James O. Amos Award, which recognizes an industry executive who has shown community leadership and distinguished journalism service.

Baker is the first Mainer to win the award, which was first given in 1938.

“He’s a consummate newspaperman. He has ink flowing in his veins,” Nathaniel Barrows, editor and publisher of the Penobscot Bay Press, said of Baker.

“He is also dedicated to community journalism (and) very sensitive about the role of newspapers in communities, and about the importance of fair and balanced coverage,” added Barrows, whose company publishes the Castine Patriot, The Weekly Packet and Island Ad-Vantages.

Baker was raised in Orrington, where his family lived for six generations. His father worked as an automobile mechanic and his mother was a town clerk before serving as a representative in the Maine Legislature.

Baker attended Bangor High School and then earned an economics and government degree from Bowdoin College.

He started his professional career in 1951 working for $68.01 per week at General Electric Co. in Schenectady, N.Y. Baker later transferred with the company to Paterson, N.J., and was promoted to advertising manager.

In April 1960, Baker joined the staff of The Philadelphia Inquirer as assistant to the business director, where he helped manage a 250-staff advertising department. In 1968, he was hired as marketing vice president at a Sunday magazine in New York City that was owned by publishing company Macmillan.

Baker advanced at Macmillan to senior posts at two subsidiaries: Katharine Gibbs School, a women’s college that taught administrative skills, and the Berlitz language schools.

In the early 1970s he moved to London to manage Macmillan’s international operations, and later became executive vice president and vice chairman of Macmillan’s board, a post in which he oversaw 19 related companies with 12,000 staff in 25 countries.

Baker said he’d had enough of corporate life by 1979, when he turned 50. He left New York, moved to Maine and started a marketing company.

A few years later, Baker successfully ran for a seat in the Maine House, serving from 1985 to 1986.

While seeking re-election, he met J. Russell Wiggins, former top editor of The Washington Post and then-owner of The Ellsworth American. Wiggins convinced Baker to join the company as general manager, and he eventually sold the paper to Baker.

In 2001, Baker launched a second paper, the Mount Desert Islander out of Bar Harbor.

He said his operation employs 55 full-time and 12 part-time staffers, and many employees have worked for the company for more than 15 years.

Baker declined to discuss his papers’ revenue, but said the company turns a “modest” profit.

The Mount Desert Islander has circulation of about 5,000, and The Ellsworth American circulates to roughly 10,500 readers.

Both publications, which are available in print or online for a fee, were named Newspapers of the Year in 2010 by the Maine Press Association.

National Newspaper Association spokesperson Sara Dickson declined to discuss specifically why Baker was chosen for the James O. Amos Award, noting that judges’ comments will be released at the group’s September conference.

She did say, however, that judges weigh professional achievement, community leadership and national involvement in the newspaper business.

Barrows, whose papers are printed by Baker’s print shop, said Baker excels at those criteria.

He described Baker as an inclusive publisher who has helped foster collegiate relationships with others in the publishing industry. And he said Baker hires young staffers with skills in new media techniques, like blogging.

Also, Barrows said, Baker is deeply ingrained in communities where his papers publish, a level of intimacy with readers that papers with out-of-state owners can’t match.

“When you live and work and make your income off a community, it’s a different relationship than if you are a hired gun. There is connectivity and participation in the community,” said Barrows. “People like Alan, through their dedication and commitment, help anchor the industry in emotional, financial and professional ways.”

Staff Writer Jonathan Hemmerdinger can be reached at 791-6316 or at:

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