Twenty-five years after jumping into the newspaper publishing business, Homer Tribune owner Jane Pascall is abandoning print and dumping all her marbles into the tubes.
The weekly newspaper in the community of 5,000 on the southern end of the Kenai Peninsula appears to be the first newspaper in the state to go online-only, but Pascall doesn’t think it will be the last.
“When I look online,” she said Monday, “it is where people read.”
The move online significantly reduces the cost of publishing the Tribune, but what happens to revenue remains to be seen. So far, Pascall said, most of her old, print advertisers have said they want to stay the course with her publication.
The Tribune does, however, now find itself in competition online with a long-time rival, the Homer News, still publishing a weekly on-paper version of the news along with an online version, and a public radio station, KBBI, that has been building up its online news coverage of the Kenai.
The Tribune is the second, weekly newspaper to shut down on the Peninsula this year. The Soldotna-based Redoubt Reporter announced a “hiatus” in February.
“In its current format, the paper has struggled to attain sustainability beyond the one-man (or woman)-band approach, and this drummer needs to go beat on some other things. Unfortunately, that means putting the Redoubt Reporter to rest for the time being,” wrote publisher, editor, writer, insert stuffer and more Jenny Neyman. “The goal is to re-evaluate, reorganize and come back bigger and better.”
Now reporting elsewhere
A highly capable journalist, Neyman has since taken a job as the “central Kenai Peninsula” reporter for KBBI. She did not return a call seeking comment on whether she had considered continuing the Reporter online-only as Pascall did with the Tribune.
The news business in Alaska these days is an exceedingly tough one for journalists with people scrambling to find work anywhere they can. What was a competitive market in Anchorage, the state’s largest city, ended when Alaska Dispatch.com, an online start-up, bought the Anchorage Daily News from The McClatchy Company, a California-based chain, in 2014 for $34 million.
“Alaska is one of those unusual places where community-based newspapers in print are still a business model that readers and advertisers care about,” Dispatch owner Alice Rogoff told the New York Times shortly after the purchase.
But the costly to print newspaper, rebranded as Alaska Dispatch News (ADN.com), has struggled to make money, according to sources within the organization. And there are indications it has been shedding its higher paid staff in an effort to get costs down.
ADN President Tony Hopfinger, a former minority owner in Alaska Dispatch, left the organization sometime after the new year, although the departure was never publicly announced. Opinion page editor, Scott Woodham, the former assistant managing editor of the Dispatch, left ADN quietly earlier this month.
Meanwhile, the ADN sued McClatchy for more than $700,000 – contending it was cheated on the sale – but now appears to have withdrawn the suit. ADN also severed its relationship with the Associated Press to save about $170,000 per year.
These are tough times for newspapers both big and small. It is clear, Pascall said, that the future is not in costly print in an age where competition can start online news organizations for almost nothing, and where people are turning increasingly to computers and smart phones for their news.
“I have a lot of subscribers from an old generation,” she said, “(but) they all think it’s, going online. Oddly enough, the Homer Tribune was the first newspaper in Homer to do an online edition.”
For years, Pascall found herself producing a news website that was regularly scooping the newspaper she also published. At some point, she admitted, that just didn’t seem to make much sense.
“It just sort of dawned on me one day,” she said. “I guess in the back of my mind I’d always sort of had the idea” that the Tribune would on day go online-only.
Now that time has come. Whether other Alaska newspapers follow suit remains to be seen. The world of journalism is changing so rapidly at the moment no one is really sure of where it is going. The consumer thirst for information remains strong, but how to tap consumers to make enough money to cover the costs of reporting is a challenge.
Gone for certain are the days when newspapers could expect to make double digit profits by printing newspapers thick with advertisements. ZenithOptimedia has forecast spending on mobile advertising will this year overtake spending on newspaper advertising, which has been declining for a decade. Newspapers are expected to account for less than 20 percent of advertising spending in 2017. They collected close to 40 percent of advertising revenues in 2007.
“We predict newspaper adspend will shrink by an average of 4.9% a year through to 2017, while magazine advertising will shrink by 3.2% a year,” the market analyst reported. The revenue declines make it difficult for newspapers “to attain sustainability” as Neyman put it when she shut down the Redoubt Reporter.