The Skagway News will have a new editor/reporter for 2020. Leigh Armstrong, who moved to town a year ago, is leaving for Juneau and I need to hire a replacement. But as I consider applicants, I am also thinking of what’s best for the newspaper and the community long term.
Skagway has had several different editors (and three different owners) in recent years, which I don’t think is good for the newspaper or the town. Longevity and knowledge and familiarity are good things in community journalism.
I believe what’s best is a return to the traditional role of a small-town newspaper, where the editor is the owner and lives in town and is part of the community. That model has worked for decades in Ketchikan and Sitka, Wrangell and Petersburg, it worked when Jeff Brady owned The Skagway News and it works in Haines with the Chilkat Valley News.
An owner/editor who is active in the community and who knows the community and its residents can best reflect and represent those residents.
So while I am looking for a new editor/reporter for The Skagway News, I am also looking to see if I can find that right person (or couple) to move in, take up residence in Skagway (or maybe who already lives in Skagway), and own and operate the newspaper the same as many other residents own and operate local businesses.
I have enjoyed owning The Skagway News, which I bought in April, and I look forward to my visits to town. But they are just that — visits. I am teaching journalism in Anchorage and not available or interested in moving back into running a newspaper full time at age 68.
I wasn’t planning on turning over the newspaper operation to a new owner this winter, but needing a new editor has accelerated that decision for me. Sometimes, life does not go according to schedule.
As the newspaper business is financially sketchy (not just in small-town Alaska but nationwide), I cannot reasonably expect anyone to pay me much money to buy The Skagway News. That’s OK. Money is not the issue.
I think back to when my late wife and I bought the Wrangell weekly newspaper in 1976 — we were young, eager to learn, settle in a community and do good work. We did not have a lot of money, but the newspaper owner and the town gave us a chance. I want to give that same opportunity to someone with The Skagway News.
You may hear that I am willing to give over the newspaper operation free of charge to the right person or couple. Yes, that is correct. I want someone to get the opportunity to do good things with the paper and for the town. If that means setting them up in business for free, so be it. Quality and longevity of the newspaper is the most important issue.
And if I cannot find that new owner/editor, I’ll maintain my ownership, hire a new reporter/editor, and work with the staff to produce the best newspaper and visitors guide that we can for Skagway.
I wanted you to hear it from me. That’s the job of a small-town newspaper. Everyone’s already heard some version of the news by the time we publish, but our job is to tell them the full and factual story.