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Publisher: Future uncertain for Harpswell community newspaper

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Publisher: Future uncertain for Harpswell community newspaper

HARPSWELL — A monthly newspaper that was originally funded by the publisher's clam-digging efforts will not be in local mailboxes next month for the first time since home delivery began eight years ago.

Robert Anderson, publisher and editor of the Harpswell Anchor, Wednesday said the community newspaper's future is uncertain after he realized that 30-40 advertising accounts had not paid by the beginning of the month.

Anderson said his two staff members also left in the past two weeks. As a result, the publisher has hung a "Closed" sign on the door of his 945 Harpswell Neck Road office.

In addition, Anderson said his usual group of freelance writers have not been available this month for various reasons, leaving the paper without any stories past its Sept. 17 deadline for the October edition.

Anderson said one staffer left because her husband was assigned a job in California. He said the other staffer left after she thought she was going to be laid off when he told her about the outstanding accounts.

A half dozen people have come in to help with volunteer or paid work, Anderson said, but he's still not sure whether his readers will see a paper next month.

If the newspaper gets out, it will be at least a week late, he said.

The publisher said both of his employees had specialized skills in design and other necessary tasks for newspaper production – skills he doesn't possess.

"I have to go in and learning everything, and for anyone I bring in," Anderson said.

He said he's been knocking on his advertisers' doors to get them to pay, and has been paid by about half of the overdue account-holders.

Anderson said he has been lenient in the past with advertisers who fail to pay on time, but it's never been like this.

"This is the worst year I've ever had," he said.

Anderson said he did not want to disclose how much the newspaper makes on a yearly basis, but it was enough for him to pay his own bills and pay the two employees.

The publisher, however, did say that he supplemented his income by digging for clams on weekends.

The Anchor began in July 1998, a month after Anderson, a retired lobsterman, first rented the office building with money from a day's catch of clams.

The publisher said before the paper started making money on its own, he supported it with half of the money he made from clam digging while paying his own bills with the other half.

Carol Coultas, a Harpswell resident and longtime journalist who is now editor of Mainebiz, said she helped Anderson with free design work for about five years before he brought on paid employees.

"I did it as a volunteer because I believed in what he was doing for the community," Coultas said.

She said her husband, Ken Chutchian, was a staff writer at Maine Times, a now-defunct statewide alternative newspaper, while Anderson was a freelancer in the mid-1990s.

When Anderson came up with the idea for a community newspaper after he attended some media studies classes at the University of Southern Maine, Coultas said he approached her and Chutchian to help him get started.

"I think it was a fabulous service for the town," Coultas said, adding that she hopes the newspaper finds a way to keep going.

No matter what happens, Anderson said he will keep plugging away at something. For now, he said he doesn't want people to worry too much about him.

"I'm not looking for any sympathy," he said. "I've got broad shoulders and I can take it."

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or dmartin@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.