25 Years Ago in The Skagway News

Spring Break with the first Skagway News, March 1978
‘Still crazy after all these years’

Twenty-five years ago this week, I came to Skagway on my spring break – from the University of North Carolina. Crazy? Absolutely, but I was a determined 21-year-old on a mission. The previous two summers, I had worked in Skagway and saw an opportunity for either buying or starting a newspaper. Cy Coyne, publisher of the monthly (sometimes) North Wind, which I had reported for, was ready to give up the news business, but really had nothing to sell. I said I’d like to try something on my own, using the name of the original newspaper from 1897. His response, “Good luck, kid.” So I came to Skagway that March with the idea of writing a few stories, printing a sample issue, and selling a few subscriptions. With the help of Jim Richards (who let me stay at his house), Bill Hartmann, (my printer in Haines), Michelle Kennedy, (graphic artist), and Rand Snure (photographer and first subscriber), I was able to cover a play, a council meeting, and poll the people of Skagway about what they wanted in a weekly paper. Once I returned to Chapel Hill, I wrote all my stories and shipped them off to Hartmann slow-mail with a layout “dummy” for a two-page paper. He printed it and shipped it off to Richards, who gave the 400 or so “sample” copies of Vol. 1, Number 1 to Postmaster Wanda Warner to place in every P.O. box.
It was a hit! Everyone especially enjoyed the coverage of the play, “Butterflies are Free,” (yes, that’s “General” John Jackson on the front page) and the city council story about bugs going wild at the old dump. To summarize, the city had stopped burning at the dump, and the bugs had come into town, leading city councilors to change their minds.
“Let’s go up there and burn it this evening,” Oscar Selmer vowed. “It stinks!”
I had landed in community journalism heaven, but some warned me it wouldn’t be easy. Mayor Bob Messegee was a big supporter, but cautioned me on my decision to start a paper. I still have his quote near my computer: “I think if you run a newspaper here, you’re gonna need a pair of brass knuckles and a body guard.”
Undeterred, I returned in mid-May with a van full of equipment, and started work on my first real edition, which appeared June 15, with the first Skaguay Alaskan visitor guide stuffed inside. My dream of a weekly paper for the town didn’t last, but after many adjustments, the paper managed to survive as a twice-monthly with the loyal support of our readers. Thanks to all who make it happen to this day. - Jeff Brady