By Gretchen Wehmhoff
As a child I’d stay awake late into the night, resting on my elbows because that seemed to make breathing easier. I knew the asthma attack would pass if I could hold my focus. Eventually, I would fall asleep, exhausted.
My sister lay in the bed on the other side of the room. We had matching wooden dressers, matching desks and matching headboards – all stained a dark avocado green. On each headboard was a matching clock radio.
I turned the radio on softly, so as to not wake anyone. The house was quiet. Everyone was asleep except for me – my sister, my parents across the hall and my brother in the next room down. I stared intently as the clock’s second hand slowly moved around the face at 60 beats per minute. Each minute I was closer to falling asleep or more likely, longer awake.
I waited for the Dj to announce a song, then drift back to another 10 minutes of John Lennon, Carly Simon, Steely Dan or Robert Flack. I imagined that I wasn’t really alone in my awakeness and that the DJ would drive past my house on the way home, another human up late in the early or late hours of the day. Or was the whole world asleep but me?
I’d continue to stare at the clock. If I was still having asthma in the morning we would go to the hospital, if it passed, I would go to school, but I might not walk. Mom would drive, walk into the school with me and sign me in. Nothing was ever set in stone, and getting to nothing was rarely done by schedule. I wouldn’t know until the morning.
The clock ticked, the second hand moved and I waited for the DJ to announce another song.
A little over five and a half decades later, I’m resting in bed with some kind of respiratory bug. There are different surroundings – oximeters, nebulizers, medications that changed my life so I rarely get severe asthma attacks. But a respiratory cold takes you to your knees, or elbows in my case.
I found myself staring at my Amazon Echo Spot with Alexa’s virtual second hand ticking around a virtual analog clock. Now and then she offered a recipe or a weather report. Just a moment ago she offered a video of a bulldozer breaking down the wall between Israel and Gaza.
Then the words or pictures fade back to the ticking clock. The dog breed of the day came by, some bull variation. How does Alexa know I’m a dog person?
The second hand, all digital in a comforting analog form, continues around the circle and I’m either getting healthier or I’m not. I’ll get better. Right now I feel pretty crummy.
Alexa offers a question on her screen, “Alexa, who will win the World Series?”
Well, if she can answer that it would sure be a hit to the sports networks.
I wasn’t interested in that answer. The accurate answer would be “one of the teams.”
What would I care to know? I thought of a question closer to home where I wish she could shed some light..
“Alexa, what will happen to The Skagway News?”
It’s a valid question. For the past three and a half years I’ve been thinking of The Skagway News (SN) every day. From the start of the pandemic when we had to quickly go online with a PDF version to being able to use CARES money to print again for two years, I’ve been laying out the SN twice a month, taking photos when I’m in town and falling in love with the people in the unique valley.
Joe and I planned to slowly make Skagway our part-time home, but the prices of homes didn’t invite a second mortgage and year-round rentals were rare. The passing of our daughter changed the trajectory of our obligations. Being near our grandchildren was imperative as they absorbed their new lives without her. Any move was on hold.
Even now, housing is tough for people who can’t afford to buy, but have obligations to be here.
Due to costs this past year, Melinda and I needed to make tough choices. We had to give up our office space in the historic Boas building above Skagway’s beloved bookstore. Of course, that took us away from the window looking out on Broadway Street, a favorite spot of mine. I can’t say I miss the stairs. If it wasn’t for my traveling buddy, Athena, I might rarely have left the building. Melinda or a member of her family would often meet me when I arrived and help carry my stuff upstairs to the little temporary apartment next to the office and Paul enjoyed taking Athena out for walks.
I lost my place to stay in Skagway when we moved out of the downtown office.
This summer I bought a tent I could stand in along with a raised inflatable mattress, figuring $10 a night at Garden City could get me two weeks at a time. I’d leave my food and valuables in my locked car on the street and it would be fine.
But as the summer turned to fall and the bears made their annual walk into town, I wasn’t sure a tent was the best deal. Jeff and Dorothy Brady gave me a spot to park my car and my body for a month in August and September. There were still stairs, but I only had to climb them once a day.
The second SN victim, due to costs, was the printed paper.
Going totally online was not an easy decision. Melinda and I battled over the decision for months. Finally, I agreed to go online, but we needed to keep the PDF. The PDF paper was my digital anchor to an analog – or tactile experience. It looked like a newspaper.
A printed newspaper with a crossword puzzle will stay on a table longer. Add some coloring pages for children or quiet moments, and it might end up on the refrigerator. It’s hard to hang on to a digital paper – the look is there, the art is there, the color and page turning is there.
But, much like Alexa’s virtual clock, it’s really not there.
I know the printed paper is missed by many. I hear about it when I’m in town and via emails from frustrated subscribers. There’s a bit of excitement to get the “air fresh” copy of the paper in the mailbox or at the store. Now, without the hardcopy, advertisers aren’t as comfortable and in this town, local advertisers are also our customers. We have a strong group of loyal advertisers who keep the SN going. I’ve worked to make our website more ad friendly and there is still work to be done to replace missing archives.
I’ve set eyes on a few grants and have been reaching out to current and potential advertisers for both The SN and the Skaguay Alaskan, for which I will start contracting ads and laying out in a few months.
There are folks who don’t mind reading the paper on their computer or phone, although the page turning experience is less friendly on the phone. While I was in Skagway this last visit, I only met people who missed the hard copy. We lost a significant number of subscriptions when we had to stop printing.
If a paper is only online – without a PDF – can it survive? If there isn’t an image resembling a paper, much like the virtual clock on the Echo Spot, is it really a newspaper? I think it helps and I will continue to keep the PDF.
We have joined cooperatives with other Southeast papers to share stories and information. We have been blessed with the photo contributions of so many community members and we are grateful for the relationships we have with this town.
Printing and mailing the paper, at the lowest rates so far, costs us about $1700 a month.
Alexa can’t help here. But maybe Skagway can.
If you have a moment, write to us. Tell us your ideas, your memories, your reasons for caring about The Skagway News. What works, what doesn’t. What do you count on, what do you miss? Do you like the Fun Page? Do you print it out? Do you count on the Weather Watch or the Fire & Police Blotter? Do you find your election information helpful or could you find that somewhere else? What variety would you like?
You are our prime audience so your input is valuable – probably lifesaving. A survey will go out to our readers in a month or so, but in the meantime bring it on – the good, the bad, the hopeful.
Email us at email@example.com. We may print your emails, so note your preference when you write to us.
Skagway, what will happen to The Skagway News?
The second hand is ticking.