New owners rescue 3 rural Alaska newspapers

Richard Mauer

A couple with roots in western Alaska are entering the shaky newspaper business by buying three rural weeklies on the verge of shutdown, but the new publishers are not yet ready to quit their day jobs.

Jason Evans, from Nome, and Kiana Peacock, from Kotzebue, reached a deal with Calista Corp. to buy the Arctic Sounder of Kotzebue and Barrow, the Bristol Bay Times and the Dutch Harbor Fisherman, Calista announced Friday. The terms were not disclosed.

All three papers were scheduled to print their final editions the week of Aug. 15 along with three other weeklies owned by the Calista publishing subsidiary, Alaska Newspapers Inc.

Calista announced earlier this week that one of the other papers, the Cordova Times, had been saved by a sale to its editor, Jennifer Gibbins.

That left the Tundra Drums of Bethel and the Seward Phoenix LOG still on their death beds, along with a bimonthly magazine, First Alaskans. Calista, the Native regional corporation for the Bethel area, said it would still like to find buyers for the remaining publications.

Evans and Peacock, both 38, now live in Anchorage. In an interview Friday, Evans said he would continue to work his salaried job as vice president for consulting for Alaska Growth Capital, a subsidiary of Arctic Slope Regional Corp. of Barrow. Peacock, a customer service representative for Alaska Airlines, where she is president of machinist's union Local 601, will likewise keep her job, Evans said.

The idea for getting into the newspaper business was his wife's, Evans said. She's the daughter of teachers who came to Kotzebue some 40 years ago, and she grew up reading the Arctic Sounder, Evans said. He is an Inupiaq from Nome who once wrote a column on rural business for the venerable Nome Nugget.

They looked at the possibilities of buying the Sounder, then realized they could also make a go of the Bristol Bay and Dutch Harbor weeklies, Evans said. They're also buying two free monthly shoppers mailed to rural residents throughout Alaska, the Equipment Shopper and the Bush Shopper.

Evans said it was important for those communities to still have local publications, but he also believes, after studying the business, that the weeklies can be at least marginally profitable.

He and Peacock intend to move slowly on deciding how much staff they need or how the publications should change. They also have not yet decided where to base news staff, but will keep the current set up for now: one chief reporter for each paper, with the Dutch Harbor reporter continuing to live in that community and the Sounder and Times reporters remaining in Anchorage.

At the same time, Evans said, he hoped to take advantage of "untapped resources" in rural Alaska with citizen journalists who can write and take pictures.

"I think in the short term, we'll make very few changes, and then over time we'll evaluate what may work better," he said.

Reach Richard Mauer at rmauer@adn.com or 257-4345.


By RICHARD MAUER
rmauer@adn.com
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