North

Extra! Extra! Take over this small-town Alaska newspaper, for free

The Skagway News can be yours — for nothing. The newspaper's owner Larry Persily says he wants to give someone a start in the business.

Skagway News owner Larry Persily ready to pass the torch, and he doesn't want money

The Skagway News office, in Skagway Alaska. The paper's current owner is looking to pass the torch, and he's not asking for any money. (Leigh Armstrong/The Skagway News)

Want a newspaper? Like, the whole operation?

Then Larry Persily is your guy. The owner of The Skagway News in Alaska is willing to turn over his small-town business to the right person, for a good price.

It's free.

"Maybe I'll find the right person just to give it to, and that will be their start in the business," Persily said from his home in Anchorage, where he teaches journalism at the University of Alaska.

The veteran journalist bought the paper not even a year ago, hoping to run it from afar. He says it's been tough, so he's proposing to give it away to someone who's prepared to live in the small, remote town of about 1,000 people. 

He got the idea when the paper's Skagway-based editor recently gave notice. 

"I thought, well, I've got to hire a new editor but maybe the best solution is to go find someone who is going to be the owner, the editor, part of the community, and live happily ever after," said Persily. 

'Quality and longevity of the newspaper is the most important issue,' says Larry Persily, the paper's owner. (Submitted by Larry Persily)

Writing on the paper's website, Persily, 68, reflected on his own start in journalism, when he and his late wife bought the weekly newspaper in Wrangell, Alaska, 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," he wrote.

"Quality and longevity of the newspaper is the most important issue."

Persily warns, though — it's not a money-maker, by any stretch. The entire newspaper business in North America is "financially sketchy," he says. 

Inside the Skagway News office. (Leigh Armstrong/The Skagway News)

"It's just hard, as people go to social media and don't want to pay for real news," he said.

"Yes, readership is declining as people of my generation die off and younger people seem to think a phone is a newspaper."

Gold Rush roots

The paper traces its roots to the Klondike Gold Rush, when Skagway was a boomtown overrun by stampeders headed for the Yukon. Readers may have included Donald Trump's grandfather.

The original "Skaguay News," established in 1897, chronicled tales of desperate characters and frontier drama — most famously, the shooting death of notorious gangster Soapy Smith, in 1898.

"Soapy Smith's Last Bluff Called by Frank Reid," reads the front page of July 15, 1898. "Armed With a Winchester He Endeavors to Intimidate a Large Meeting of Indignant Citizens on the Third Wharf."

The paper shut down in 1904 as the Gold Rush receded into history, and was revived in 1978. It's been published regularly since then.

Last week's issue. (CBC)

"Serving the Gateway to the Klondike," proclaims the paper's masthead. It publishes twice monthly and a typical issue runs about a dozen or so pages. 

There aren't many gangsters in the headlines these days, but there is drama, and real news.

A recent issue had stories about a Chilkoot Trail hiker surviving a bear attack, state cuts to the town's ferry service, and the local rental housing shortage. 

The business's real bread-and-butter, though, is the annual visitors guide published each summer for the hordes of tourists disgorged daily by visiting cruise ships. Persily says 110,000 copies of the visitors guides were given away last summer. 

The paper's bread-and-butter is the annual visitors guide, published each summer for the visiting hordes of tourists. (Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada)

To Persily, running the paper takes passion — and a lot more.

"Work, skills, lack of sleep, commitment, and driving to Whitehorse every other week to pick up the paper from the printer," he said.

"It's a lot of work running a small-town newspaper and reporting on your friends and your neighbours, and doing it fairly and honestly. But I think it can be done."

He's welcoming emails from anybody who's seriously interested in taking the paper off of his hands. There's no deadline for applicants, but he'd like to have somebody in place by January, if possible — "before the summer crush comes," he said.

Persily can be reached at paper@alaskan.com.

With files from Christine Genier

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