Coastal Voices: Nostalgic over changes at newspaper

By John Pritchett October 10, 2011 05:56 pm

I find myself melancholy over the end of the five-day-a-week Daily Triplicate. Last Friday night, she was put to bed one last time, replaced by the three-day-a-week edition of the Del Norte Triplicate.

Of course, I have a unique perspective; for 8½ years I was editor of The Daily Triplicate, from its infancy to its middle age.

The Triplicate went to a five-day-a-week publication schedule in early 1991. The move made sense at the time. Pelican Bay State Prison had recently opened, Safeway had just moved into its new facility, and Wal-Mart and Kmart were coming soon. From a distance, the future looked bright.

Looks can be deceiving.

It was a different time in Del Norte County, and not necessarily a better time. There was an ugly, almost cruel schism between the newcomers the prison had brought to the community and those with long-established roots. The retail section of downtown Crescent City was in its fading light. The promises of economic salvation from tourists visiting Redwood National Park and the Smith River National Recreation Area never materialized as hoped.

I arrived in late June of that year, barely 30 years old, woefully in over my head, given the task of convincing Del Norte County that a daily newspaper was something it not only wanted, but needed. There were vague plans for turning the newspaper into a regional product that would serve Curry County as well. For many reasons, that idea never took root. Meanwhile, the initial rollout of the new product in Del Norte County had been less than successful and the former editor — a fine but probably overwhelmed journalist — had been let go.

I truly lacked a clue of what I was getting into, but I found out in a hurry.

My first day on the job, the phone rang. It was a Klamath resident, a person I would later learn had some influence in Del Norte County. For the next three minutes or so, he told me what a poor job I was doing, using terms not suitable for a family newspaper — or, for that matter, a restroom wall.

“Sir,” I finally was able to say when he took a breath, “I have been on the job now for all of 15 minutes.”

“Well … you … you need to get out more,” he said, slamming the phone down. A few years later, I would write his obituary, using that first experience to truthfully say he was a “colorful and strong-willed character.”

Over the decade of the 1990s, The Daily Triplicate was my life. I probably ate more meals at my desk than at my home. On rare vacations, I would write editorials on the road, and then fax them to the office for publication the next day. We fought a never-ending — and sometime losing — battle between filling our news space with local material, keeping overtime costs to a minimum, and trying not to let too many typos slip through the cracks.

(I am less than proud to say that I personally created in print the “California Correctional Peach Officers Association” and well as the infamous “American Association of Retarded Persons.” And I still cringe over the time the “Obituaries” logo was placed over the birth announcements.)

The Daily Triplicate did good things, too. The early coverage of the solid waste problems in Del Norte County was important. I am proud of the newspaper’s role in exposing graft and other issues at the Crescent City Harbor.

In the process, a number of fine journalists began or advanced their careers in Crescent City, award-winning individuals such as Mark Ylen, Jennifer Moody, Ty Walker, Nick Baker, Julie Johnson and others, plus those who came after my departure in the year 2000.

Those editors who followed me over the next decade — Fred Obee, Mike Schmeltzer, Rob Bignell and now Richard Wiens — earned their stripes as well, putting out a product every Tuesday through Saturday. The technology improved, the faces changed, but the goal was still the same; to provide readers with a complete, up-to-date news, entertainment and advertising package.

Alas, the economic and logistic hurdles required to put out a daily newspaper became too much. For a community this size, a three-day-a-week paper just makes too much sense. In all honesty, it probably should have been done long ago. After 20-plus years, The Daily Triplicate is gone. The Del Norte Triplicate is back. Long may she wave.

But let us remember with some fondness that two-decade experiment that was The Daily Triplicate. That time will undoubtedly be just a footnote in the long, overall history of the Triplicate publications, but she served her role, to the best of the ability of those who toiled under her banner.

Rest in peace, old friend. Rest in peace.

John  Pritchett is the general manager of Del Norte Ambulance.