Robert Anderson, a man of the sea, stands with feet wide apart, like he’s balancing on swells. The whiteboard in his office reads “fiddleheads, seals, license plates.” Those are ideas, he explains. Perhaps they’ll inspire stories beyond the town news he regularly publishes.

The Cundy’s Harbor native has put out the Harpswell Anchor, a monthly newspaper, since 1998. Before that, he was a lobsterman. Then his back gave out. In his mid-forties he went to University of Southern Maine to change careers, majoring in media studies. After searching for a job, he decided the 5,000 residents of Harpswell needed their own newspaper, so he started one.

Anderson, 55, works out of a cabin on Route 123 in Harpswell Center. He rented it for $275 a month when he started out. Back then, the building needed work. A particularly large clam haul helped fund its purchase, and now it’s a tidy, two-room clapboard house to which he’s added a ramp, septic system, parking lot, new roof, and sign: Anchor Publishing, Inc. He employs a full-time staff of two and a handful of freelance writers.

“I dug clams for seven years, and I’d put half of that clam money into this [he gestures around the renovated office] and half to pay my bills, and that’s what built this business,” he says. “I never gave myself a paycheck.”

The newspaper mixes town news with features on food, crafts, local events, and nonprofits; a crossword puzzle created in-house; and a slew of letters to the editor. It’s delivered free to every postal customer in Harpswell (about 3,000 mailboxes) and widely disseminated on newsstands in nearby towns. The print run is about 10,000 in the summer months and 6,000 other times of the year. Anchor Publishing has also produced four original books and several maps and reproductions.

The 32-page issue for March 2010 is news-heavy, as important decisions loom for this municipality challenged by geography. Harpswell comprises two large peninsulas, three bridge-connected islands, and many coves and reaches. The town has 218 miles of coastline.

The issue previews the upcoming town meeting and the separate vote on whether to consolidate the town’s two elementary schools, provides an update on the removal of the Navy’s seven-mile jet fuel pipeline, and discusses a recent border dispute with Brunswick. It includes question and answer interviews with the current Board of Selectmen and statements from candidates for town office.

Many citizens appreciate what the newspaper provides. “We look forward to each edition of the Harpswell Anchor because it does literally ‘anchor’ us to our community,” says Mary Buckowsky, who lives in east Harpswell. “We also look for the tide table and contact information for local service providers.”

But the newspaper doesn’t please everyone. The April issue, which arrived in mailboxes on April Fools’ Day, was too joke-heavy, says one reader, who declined to be identified. In general, she’d like to see more hard news, and more towns covered. A friend of hers says she is tired of seeing the same names again and again in the paper.

Anderson knows not everyone is a fan. But judging just by the paper’s masthead, the Anchor staff doesn’t take itself too seriously. In addition to Anderson, there’s Bill “Air” Millar’s position: “Man About Town.” Stacy Welner is “Plenipotentiary and Graphic Design.”

One of the newspaper’s regular departments is open to all contributors who’d like to complete this phrase with a witty rejoinder: “You know you’re a Harpswellite if…” (A recent reply:  “you know the CMP power outage number by heart but have to look up your mother’s.”) The newspaper’s Facebook page and Twitter feed may surprise some serious journalism diehards with their occasional prankish entries.

In addition to news stories, press releases, and calendar items, the newspaper regularly publishes items about town history. A very popular department is “Good Read,” which has appeared on the back page of each issue for nearly a decade. Harpswell citizens take a copy of the Harpswell Anchor with them on trips and send in a snapshot of them reading it wherever they happen to go-in front of Balmoral Castle, on the beach in Aruba, at the South Pole. The staff adds a humorous caption.

An atmosphere of good-natured camaraderie reigns at the office. The three rib each other and enjoy it. “Millar’s wife pays to have him come to work,” jokes Anderson. He shows me the formal invoice he sent to her, and her hand-written reply, with a fake $1,000,000 bill.

“You can’t take this job serious. You have to laugh,” says Welner, who does layout and design as well as some writing and ad sales.

Next to the entrance is a glass bowl of Hershey’s kisses, Milky Ways, Reese’s. The county sheriff makes a regular stop to grab a handful on his way up or down the narrow West Harpswell peninsula. It’s more than a jolt of sugar. He and the staff share news before it’s printed, offer the inside track on official and off-the-record events to come. George Lee Bradbury, the town’s marine patrol officer, contributes a column to the newspaper.

Anchor Publishing gets visitors of all kinds, all the time, says Anderson, as it is often the only open and official-looking entity in Harpswell Center (other public spaces are the historical society, scout hall, cemetery, small park). The staff is constantly giving out advice and directions.

When the issue deadline looms, the office staff doesn’t stress out. “We get the stories in, the ads in, we’ve got a template,” says Millar.

Does Anderson feel his newspaper helped to unify the town?

“Oh definitely,” says the publisher, who claims (and one can never be sure) that he’s related to half the town. “Every mailbox in Harpswell gets a copy.”

“If people don’t get it on the first of the month, we get calls – where is the paper? We have a dedicated fan base,” adds Welner.

Does the business have mission statement? Anderson: “To get the paper out before the deadline.” Everybody laughs.