Bob Berkowitz

It’s no secret to the readers that some two months ago Western, Communications Inc., the parent company of several newspapers in Oregon and two in California, including the Curry Coastal Pilot and the Del Norte Triplicate, declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

This is probably the reason for the changes you have noticed in the last several years, which included combining the editor and publisher of the Pilot and Triplicate into one position, decreasing the number of hard news reporters from four down to two, and just this month with the newspaper publishing just two editions down from three each week.

It’s also no secret that the downsizing of these two newspapers is symptomatic of the newspaper business in general. According to the University of North Carolina, over 1,800 newspapers have closed in the last 15 years. This means lost jobs for those who work in the industry but more than that, it means that we lose a sense of community, the glue that holds us together.

Think about having no local sports news, or not knowing what your city council is doing, or what’s going on at the harbor, or who passed away or… Well, you get the picture. Hundreds of smaller stories that we rely on the newspaper to report, would go unreported. Sure, we can find out what’s going on in the world from any number of sources but where do we find out what’s going on in our own backyard? Our only source is the local newspaper.

Western Communication Inc. believes selling off its buildings and other fixed assets will solve the problem but selling assets only prolongs the problem and kicks the problem down the road. The real problem, it looks like, lies in operating costs. It seems that they attempted to address that problem since their last bankruptcy in 2011 by making the changes that were enumerated above.

I really think that its operating model must change. One change they could make is to combine the Triplicate and the Pilot into one newspaper. I realize that these two communities are totally different and that neither community would like it, but we are talking about newspaper survival here.

Another scenario would be to come out with a print edition only on Saturday with the other edition being online only. This would save additional funds for newsprint, which by the way, is Western Communications Inc. largest creditor.

Lastly, they could go totally online with the newspaper. This is probably the most drastic of the solutions that have been offered but it is the one that will ensure its survival because it eliminates newsprint, and that’s a huge cost to any newspaper. Online subscriptions mean that the paper can have subscribers anywhere in the world, that’s why online newspapers have been gaining in acceptance and popularity.

A good example of an online only newspaper is the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. After years of losing money as a print newspaper, in 2009 it changed to an internet only newspaper. As of 2018, it had 2.8 million unique visitors and 208,000 unique visitors per day.

In the last 50 years, we have seen many changes. It seems like only yesterday that we were looking at a black and white TV with just three stations. It was just in 1980 KCRE was established as Del Norte County’s first FM radio station.

We don’t know what the future will hold for the next 50 years but one thing we know for sure is that there will always be a need for local information, sports and weather. It is my hope that a local newspaper will be in business, supplying that information to local citizens.

Bob Berkowitz is a Del Norte County supervisor.