BLUE HILL, Maine — Fifty years ago, The Weekly Packet was the new kid on the journalism block.
Jerry and Gayle Durnbaugh launched the Packet on Dec. 1, 1960. Last week, almost 50 years to the day later, the weekly newspaper celebrated its golden anniversary with an open house at its Main Street offices and the publication of a special 50th anniversary edition.
During those years, the paper has continued to publish information about the lives of the people in the Blue Hill area that has kept readers and advertisers committed to the publication. According to owner and publisher Nat Barrows, that commitment, from owners, readers, staff and advertisers has made the Packet a successful newspaper venture.
The Durnbaughs owned the paper for 21 years, and Barrows has been the owner for the past 29 years. That kind of commitment provides readers with a sense of continuity that is the hallmark of a good community paper, according to Barrows.
“There is mutual support in a small community,” he said. “We have a job to do as journalists — the good, the bad and the ugly. But people know we’re going to be there for the long haul to support them and be a part of the community.”
The Weekly Packet became one of three weekly papers published by Barrows’ Penobscot Bay Publishing; the other two are the Castine Patriot and the Island Ad-Vantages in Stonington.
The sense of community and commitment at the Blue Hill weekly never changed. Most of the staffers measure their tenure with the company in decades, including the freelancers and correspondents, and 11 of the businesses that advertised in the first edition of the Packet were still advertising in last week’s edition 50 years later.
At the open house, Barrows honored two writers who have been with the paper from the beginning: Gayle Durnbaugh and Bette Britt. Though a behind-the-scenes player in the early years, co-founder Gayle Durbaugh has written her Gaylewinds column for decades. Britt’s byline appeared in the first edition of the paper, and she has held various positions from volunteer to news editor to reporter. She continues to file stories weekly as a freelance reporter.
The Packet and its staff have garnered Maine Press Association awards over the years and also earned honors for its two publishers. Jerry Durnbaugh was inducted into the MPA Hall of Fame shortly before his death in 2003. And four years later in 2007, Barrows was named the MPA Journalist of the Year. The recognition, Barrows said, was icing on the cake.
“It’s nice to have that recognition from your peers,” he said, “but the most important recognition comes from the customers. Without the customers, nothing else happens.”
Barrows and the Packet have seen changes in the newspaper business from hand-setting type, to paste-up, computers and now the Internet. The challenge for the paper now and in the future, he said, is to continue to maintain its core focus of disseminating information while keeping up with changes in technology.
“Our information flow reaches into all segments of our community and helps to bind that community together,” he said. “The challenge is to adapt our business model with and in anticipation of the marketplace and to keep that community focus.”