May 21, 2018
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Fort Kent weekly newspaper Fiddlehead Focus shuts down

By Julia Bayly, BDN Staff

FORT KENT, Maine — Due to a combination of printing costs and a decrease in advertising revenues, The Fiddlehead Focus weekly announced it has printed its final paper as of Wednesday, according to owner-publisher Andrew Birden.

“The math simply wasn’t there,” Birden said Wednesday afternoon, an hour after announcing his Fort Kent-based paper was ceasing publication after a three-year run. He added the door is not completely shut on somehow maintaining an online presence.

The publication’s six full-time and two part-time employees, plus a small cadre of freelance writers, were informed of the shutdown earlier that day, Birden said.

“It has been an amazing ride, but the truth of the matter is that we are unable to sell enough copies of the printed version of Fiddlehead Focus, folks are not accustomed to paying for local online news, and too few businesses are advertising for us to meet all of our financial obligations.”

The paper was published in print form every Wednesday with updated stories posted on its website throughout the week.

According to Birden, traffic on the paper’s website is currently at an all-time high with between 2 million and 3 million page views every month.

“But the people who come to the website do not pay for [reading] the news,” he said. “And the online advertising was not enough to keep it going.”

Birden began Fiddlehead Focus in June of 2010 with $300 and an initial press run of 500 issues.

“I built the website myself and it just expanded from there,” he said. “But in the month after last November’s elections, the bottom fell out of advertising and never came back.”

Initially offered as a free publication, the paper began charging for the printed issues in February.

Birden had nothing but praise for his news and advertising teams, who he said produced some of the best stories and images he’d ever seen, often putting in 50-plus hour weeks.

“Fiddlehead Focus was an innovation in the Valley,” editor Monica Pettengill Jerkins said Wednesday. “It filled a hole in news coverage and focused on the customers and readers above all else — apparently even above the company’s finances some of the time.”

Jerkins said she and other employees were caught off-guard by Birden’s announcement the paper was ceasing publication.

“It was a shock to all of us today who found out from the publisher just moments before the public,” she said.

“I feel awful that a quality product is going to the wayside,” Birden said. “But I need to stand back and look at where we are.”

Fiddlehead Focus also took a civic stand by providing .25 cents for each copy sold to various groups including The American Legion, Aroostook Mental Health, Meals on Wheels, local food banks, Project Graduation and a local high school cable access channel.

“If there was anything I could do to keep it going, I would,” Birden said. “It has been one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life to tell the stories of the St. John Valley.”

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