Daily Paper in Washington Puts Out Last Edition

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When Mary Swift woke up the morning of her last day at the King County Journal, she felt a sense of relief.

The newspaper where Swift has worked for more than 32 years has its last issue Sunday and the past few weeks of saying goodbye has been difficult for her.

“It’s like having a death in the family,” said the newspaper columnist.

There is a sense of mourning, she said about her co-workers, many of whom she has worked with for 15 years or more. On Friday Swift replied to the last of her e-mails, said her goodbyes to colleagues and packed up things on her desk like the heart her daughter cut out of newspapers about 24 years ago.

Black Press Ltd. announced on Dec. 28 the end of the newspaper’s publication, a month after the Victoria, British Columbia-based company purchased King County Journal Newspapers from former owner Peter Horvitz.

About 40 employees have been laid off and offered severance packages. Ten have taken jobs with the non-daily Reporter newspapers in various Seattle suburbs, which Black Press bought along with the Journal. Another took a job in the marketing department.

“It’s a sad day for everyone,” said Don Kendall, general manager of the newly created King County Publications Ltd. “It was a business decision that had to be made after years of declining circulation and advertising revenues.”

The loss of the King County Journal could be just the beginning of major newspaper changes in the Seattle area. The Seattle Times is seeking to end a joint operating agreement it has with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, arguing that the burden of publishing and handling business functions for both papers threatens The Times’ economic viability. Hearst Corp., which owns the P-I, has said the P-I could not survive outside the JOA.

In March 2006, the papers agreed to put court proceedings on hold and let an arbitrator decide whether The Times’ losses are legitimate. Both companies set a May 31 deadline for a ruling and have agreed there will be no appeal.

While the Journal shuts down, the Reporter newspapers in Auburn, Bellevue, Covington/Maple Valley, Kent, Redmond and Renton will switch from twice monthly to twice weekly publications on Jan. 24.

“Daily newspapers are struggling and community newspapers are growing and thriving,” Kendall said. “We’re very optimistic about the future of our community newspaper.”

The Kent-based newspaper was the region’s fifth-largest daily, with a weekday circulation of about 39,000. That’s down from 47,000 in 2003 when the paper was created through a merger of the daily Eastside Journal and South County Journal papers.

Some employees at the Journal have already left for other publications, others are preparing for new jobs at other Reporter newspapers and still others are pondering their next step.

But at the newsroom Friday afternoon, with employees replying to e-mails, dictionaries and papers still on desks, and editors trying to meet deadlines, it would have been difficult for an outsider to tell that most of the people in there would not be returning Monday.

“Honestly, today was not a day of high drama,” said Clayton Park, the newspaper’s business editor.

Friday afternoon he was placing the finishing touches on the newspaper’s last edition at his desk where foot-high stacks of paper still sat near to his computer.

Park said he’s disappointed at the decision but relieved that one was made instead of leaving him to wonder about the future of the newspaper. Readers and sources have contacted Park saying they’ll miss the paper.

Park thinks the 2003 merger between the Eastside and South County papers ultimately proved to be a losing formula.

“Neither community could claim it as their paper,” he said.

The secret to success is to be “local, local, local and provide that forum and that medium for local news that nobody else can do,” said David Martens, an Anacortes-based independent consultant for the newspaper industry.

Competing in a market with The Seattle Times and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, “the King County Journal’s smaller portion of the market just wound up to put the newspaper in the position where they just couldn’t sustain a daily product,” he said.

He added that in general, while newspapers around the world have seen substantial increases in revenue from Internet advertising over the past several years, money from print advertising has declined even more.

The Bothell/Kenmore Reporter will switch from twice monthly to a weekly publication, and the Mercer Island Reporter and Snoqualmie Valley Record papers will continue to publish once a week.

Black Press’s Sound Publishing group also publishes community newspapers on Washington’s Kitsap Peninsula, Whidbey Island, San Juan Islands, Vashon-Maury Island and in Federal Way, about 30 miles south of Seattle.

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