Two months ago, the owner of The Skagway News announced he would give the paper away to a publisher with strong journalism chops and a knack for business. After reviewing hundreds of responses from interested candidates, Larry Persily found two women from Chugiak who fit the bill.
Persily bought The Skagway News last year and has been managing the paper remotely from Anchorage, where he teaches journalism. It’s a bi-weekly paper with a circulation of about 500.
When the paper’s editor quit in November, Persily decided to find a new owner who could live in town year-round and edit the paper.
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He knew filling that position would be difficult.
“Skagway News, like just about every other paper in the country, is having tough times with money,” Persily said. “I thought, ‘This is going to be tough to sell, and the money is not that important to me. I’d rather find the right person.’ So I figured, let’s try something different.”
Persily announced he would give the newspaper away to someone who could keep it running strong.
National media quickly picked up the story. It even caught the attention of late night T.V. host Stephen Colbert.
Hundreds of emails flooded Persily’s inbox. The letters of interest came from all over the world. Some were from reporters who had been laid off from newspapers. Others came from adventurers seeking a new start in Alaska.
Persily felt it was important to find someone who understood small town life and how to cover it in a newspaper.
“Their ability to adapt and become part of a community was probably more important than how many years of hard journalism experience they had,” Persily said.
Persily chose Gretchen Wehmhoff and Melinda Munson of Chugiak from the 200 applicants. They learned about the opportunity through an article in the Anchorage Daily News. Munson managed to convince Wehmhoff to apply with her.
They are both teachers for the Anchorage School District with backgrounds in journalism. They have written for publications in the Chugiak area and started their own web magazine called Alaska Family Fun.
Wehmhoff said they are excited to share their passion for journalism with Skagway.
“We also are real excited about bringing the community more into the paper. I’ve been a journalism teacher for a long time and Melinda has a degree in journalism,” Wehmhoff said. “We’d love to work with some of the youth.”
Wehmhoff and Munson visited Skagway in December and are busy looking for a place to live in the small community. Persily will guide them through the transition. Although the paper was advertised as free to a good owner, Persily said the new team will have to shell out some dough to seal the deal.
“I’m selling it for $20, because I figure I should at least get a pizza out of this,” Persily said.
Munson and Wehmhoff will officially take over the paper March 3.