ANCHORAGE — Rising costs have prompted an Alaska company to close six weekly newspapers that serve rural and largely Alaska Native communities, putting nearly 40 people out of work.
Calista Corp., an Anchorage-based Alaska Native corporation which has owned the Alaska Newspaper Inc. chain for 19 years, announced Friday the increasing costs of fuel, paper and print technology led to the board’s decision to shutter the chain and liquidate.
“As a responsibility to our 12,000 shareholders, we had to take a hard look at the subsidiary and make a tough decision,” Calista President and CEO Andrew Guy said in a statement.
The weeklies in the chain include the Arctic Sounder, the Bristol Bay Times, the Cordova Times, the Dutch Harbor Fisherman, the Seward Phoenix Log and the award-winning Tundra Drums, which the Alaska Press Association voted the state’s best weekly newspaper this year. The last issues will be sometime in August.
The papers covered an area spanning 1,500 miles with only one paper, that in Seward, on the state’s road system.
“It is a sad day not just for the journalists who are losing their jobs, but for the readers who are losing their watchdogs, their storytellers, their advocates who helped them to better understand their communities,” said Julia O’Malley, president of the Alaska Press Club.
The papers continued the tradition of Native publishing that began in 1961 with Howard Rock’s Tundra Times, according to its website.
Villages then didn’t have phones or television, and the Times served as a link to the outside world while also helping unite them around the issue of Alaska Native land claims, the website says.
Calista Corp. has owned the chain since 1992, and in recent years was able to absorb many writers who were laid off at the state’s larger newspapers.
Rod Boyce, the managing editor at the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, once worked for the chain, and said the closure will be felt.
“Any time you lose newspapers, it’s tough, and in a state as geographically large as this one, the loss of those newspapers is tremendous,” he said.
And with diminished resources at larger papers, it’s difficult for them to fill the void for those communities, he said.
Calista’s CEO said the chain leaves behind an impressive legacy.
“We’re very appreciative of the superb staff and extraordinary talent that have worked so hard to report on rural Alaska. We genuinely hope the communities affected by this will find a new media voice to tell their stories,” Guy said.
Also closing are ANI’s quarterly magazine First Alaskans and Camai Printing, an Anchorage printing house.
In all, 35 full-time and 3 part-time jobs will be eliminated, said Thom Leonard, a Calista spokesman.
Calista Corp. said it would offer unemployment assistance counseling, severance packages and referral letters. Current employees will also have preferential status for openings within the corporation, if they are qualified for the job.