June 23, 2018
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Real tragedy of Fiddlehead Focus closing? Loss of 7 jobs

Julia Bayly | BDN
Julia Bayly | BDN
Fall colors peaking in the St. John Valley in 2010.
By Monica Pettengill Jerkins, Special to the BDN

Over the past two years, I had the pleasure of being a key player in the rapid growth and popularity of the weekly newspaper, Fiddlehead Focus, in Fort Kent. It was a whirlwind ride and mostly passed in a blur as the entire staff put in an enormous effort to bring the community relevant news and provide excellent customer service.

The real tragedy of Fiddlehead Focus’ closure, however, and what the community and press seem to have largely ignored, is the loss of seven jobs in the St. John Valley.

When owner-publisher Andrew Birden made the abrupt announcement Aug. 14 that he was closing the media outlet, the staff found out at nearly the same moment as the public. We were as shocked as anyone that this larger-than-life thing we’d all dedicated so much of ourselves to was no longer. The publisher told the staff in the office that day to pack their things and leave.

Two part-time staff members who were not in the office actually found out after the announcement was made public on the company’s website.

I find it unsurprising that the public is showing so much support for the media outlet to continue. We all worked hard to see to it that the public embraced Fiddlehead Focus as a community-conscious entity.

Along with a crew of freelancers, Julie Daigle, Ben Murphy and I brought the community the daily news and helped those who had moved away from the Valley to stay closely connected to their hometowns. The ad department, Maegan Cunningham, Dennis Michaud, Danielle Cote and Ian Kaleta provided excellent customer service and creativity to the business community in the Valley and beyond.

Staff members at Fiddlehead Focus were first rate. They worked long hours in a job that paid little and demanded much. They received no benefits the entire time they were there. They did this because they believed so fully in the product they produced each week for the community. I will always be proud to say that I had the pleasure to work with this talented group of people.

It pains me to hear the public outcry of support for Fiddlehead Focus, while so very few people acknowledge the hard work and dedication of the employees who no longer have the security of a job.

Among the full-time staff were a newlywed, a father of two, a mother of three,a woman who works three jobs to make ends meet and a single mother of a 1-year-old. Why has the media ignored the human element of this tragedy? Fiddlehead Focus may continue online, at least for a while, but it will not be the same without the people working there who helped make it the product that the public came to know and love.

I, like the public, hate to see Fiddlehead Focus go. I poured a tremendous amount of myself into the company, as did the other employees.

But a company is far more than a name. It is the people who work there and give it quality, character and make it what it is. The people who worked for Fiddlehead Focus made it great, and now they are gone. It’s a sad, sad situation.

Monica Pettengill Jerkins is former editor of Fiddlehead Focus.

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