The Skagway News has new owners. As founding publisher and editor Jeff Brady announced in his last issue new owners take over the 900-circulation paper this month. The editorial team stays the same, but the Whitehorse-based owners plan changes to the 37-year-old newspaper’s look and online reach.
When Brady listed the Skagway News for sale about five years ago, he knew it might take a while. He envisioned a young couple taking a chance like he did when he started the paper in 1978.
It was Brady’s college-aged daughter who had to break it to him – it wasn’t likely someone of her generation was going to be interested in taking over a weekly newspaper in small town Alaska.
“She said ‘A lot of kids in my generation are used to having things handed to them and aren’t willing to take a chance like you did.’” And I said, ‘Well, OK I guess that’s true, but damn, I still wish it would happen that way.”
Eventually, a buyer did come forward and the new owners are no strangers to Skagway. They are Jans van den Hoorn and Chris Sorg. They own PR Services in Whitehorse. Van den Hoorn has family in Skagway and the company does business there. They print a variety of visitor guides
Brady was surprised when he visited them at their Whitehorse office last year and they suggested they were interested in the newspaper.
“Skagway really is the sister community to Whitehorse. So really it was an opportunity to deepen our roots in Skagway,” Sorg says.
The newspaper industry has struggled for years. But Sorg says they go into the purchase knowing it may not be their most profitable business.
“Whether the paper is a big money maker is not going to be a make-or-break. I think we’re it in for the long-haul and we should be able to sustain that. We didn’t purchase it with the idea it’s going to be a bonanza. A labor of love, let’s hope. That’s what it should be.”
Brady says PR Services has the energy and resources he didn’t have to take advantage of new revenue sources – like online advertising – that will help keep the paper viable.
“You have to adapt and running the print product takes a lot of you just on its own. I think making the web product is what you need to do but you also need to preserve the revenue stream and I think with new owners they’ll be able to fix that.”
Elise Giordano will remain as Skagway News editor and oversee the paper’s editorial content. Katie Kollasch will remain as advertising director and business manager.
Brady plans to help out for the next year and take on the title “editor emeritus.” He’ll even keep a desk at the newsroom for a while. But he says he wants to get out of the hectic cycle of being editor, publisher, writer and everything else that goes along with running a small paper.
“Once I hit my 50s I just came personal realizing that that I didn’t want to run a newspaper anymore. I really wanted to try other types of writing and I just didn’t have the energy for it anymore.”
Brady will keep operating the The Skaguay News Depot bookstore and Lynn Canal Publishing. He will work on his novel and keep organizing the annual North Word Writers Symposium. He’ll also continue producing the annual Skaguay Alaskan visitor’s guide. That publication is a trove of the type of historical stories Brady likes to research and write about most. Brady’s work on the Alaskan led to the publication of his book, Skagway: City of the New Century two years ago.
He’s also excited for more time to hike, write and work on his family’s Dyea property.
Brady says while he won’t miss the schedule of running a newspaper, he’ll miss talking with people and sharing their stories. But he says it won’t be hard to keep up those relationships in Skagway.
“But I’m just going to engage with them all at coffee now in the mornings. I don’t have to write about them so much.”
Brady remembers the people he interviewed for his first edition back in 1978. He says it is still one of his most memorable articles he’s done. It was about moving Native graves from the old Dyea town site cemetery away from the river. He had to be mindful of local Tlingit culture and navigating the newly arrived National Park Service bureaucracy as well.
“You know that stuff is still going on. It’s amazing for a first big story that was a pretty powerful one for me.”
Readers will still be able to visit the Skagway News office above the bookstore on Main Street. Not much will change there. Brady has packed up a few things and taken down some photos – but there is one particular photo he left up. It’s a picture of the only other person that shares the title “emeritus” at the newspaper.
“I left one of my favorite photos up of Boyd Worley at Clean Sweep about 10 years ago when he was clean-sweeping and they found a bong up by the border. I left that photo up because it’s just hilarious and he was our proof reader here for about 20 years so we love Boyd.”
The most visible changes to the Skagway News will be small design changes in the next issue, the first not under the ownership of Brady. It comes out on May 15.