John N. Cole was born on February 26, 1923 in New York, New York to Helen (Dodd) and John N. Cole, Sr. His mother was a homemaker and department store window dresser. His father was a venture capital broker. He grew up and attended schools in New York City, but his family had strong ties to East Hampton. His father was a pioneering preservationist of the East Hamptons in the 1940s and 1950s, preserving two properties slated for development. Following school, Cole was a fisherman in New York for seven years. He then began to write, getting published in Esquire. He moved to Maine to become an editor at the Kennebunk Star in 1958. After making that paper profitable, he moved to Brunswick, Maine in 1960 to be editor for The Brunswick Times Record. In 1968, he and Peter Cox founded the Maine Times, which became a profitable and popular statewide weekly paper in Maine. At the Maine Times, Cole became friendly with Ed Muskie. He briefly left Maine to edit the World Paper in Boston. Upon his return to Maine, he continued to write editorials for the Maine Times, but as a freelance writer. In 1999, the Maine Times ceased publication. Publishing resumed after a two month hiatus, but the paper once again ceased publication early in 2002.
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Robitaille, Jeremy, "Cole, John oral history interview" (2001). Edmund S. Muskie Oral History Collection. 96.