September 18, 2019
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‘We won’t waver from that mission’: The BDN has delivered Maine 130 years of news

The headlines in the very first edition of the Bangor Daily News, published June 18, 1889, weren’t earth-shattering, in terms of newsworthiness: Comings and goings of ships up and down the Penobscot River. A murder trial in Chicago. Flooding in the Midwest. Horse racing results.

But just as it was 130 years ago, even today, for every significant story or major news event that happens, there are countless other stories about everyday life in Maine, across the country and around the world that fill the pages of the BDN.

One family has owned the BDN for nearly the entirety of its existence: four generations of the family of publisher Richard J. Warren. Since purchasing the BDN in 1895, his family has seen the newspaper change in countless ways over the decades, shepherding it through times both good and lean.

Warren was just 3 years old when his grandfather, publisher Fred Jordan, the second family member to own the paper, died in 1947. That year, Warren’s grandmother, Lillis Towle Jordan, took over the paper, becoming Maine’s first female newspaper publisher.

Warren recalled his grandmother bristling at the suggestion at the time from Bangor’s leading bankers, business owners and other professionals that they — all men — would handle the real work of running the paper.

“She told them she could handle it herself, thank you,” Warren said. “My grandmother had a lot of influence on me growing up. She was a very tough person.”

File | BDN
File | BDN
Lillis T. Jordan, nee Lillian Katherine Towle, matriarch of the Bangor Daily News.

While Warren cites Lillis Towle Jordan’s strengths as a leader in shaping him as a young man, he counts his father, publisher Richard K. Warren, as an influence in terms of management style. Richard K. Warren took over as publisher in 1955 and ran the paper for 29 years until his retirement in 1984.

“He was the kind of leader that would let management do their jobs. If he needed to step in, he’d step in. But otherwise, he let managers make decisions,” Richard J. Warren said. “I have tried to emulate that, for the most part.”

The BDN of even just 20 years ago looks vastly different from the BDN of 2019. Todd Benoit, now president and chief operating officer of Bangor Publishing Co., was the key figure in bringing the BDN out of the 20th century and into the 21st, instituting the 2011 switch from print-forward publication to digital-first media company.

“The newspaper industry, including the BDN, has seen more change in the last 10 years than in the previous 50,” Benoit said. “But we are emerging stronger because of what hasn’t changed — the terrific work of our staff and their willingness to take on this enormous challenge. They are awesome.”

Regardless of the medium by which information is delivered — whether on a paper printed using a hulking linotype machine or speedy phototypesetting, in a post on a website or through a push alert to your phone — the news remains a business that is also a public service.

“We’ll continue asking important questions, covering the news and putting it in context,” said Dan MacLeod, the BDN’s managing editor. “That’s what our audience has hired us to do for 130 years. We won’t waver from that mission.”



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