Dec. 18—Readers will no longer be able to pick up free copies of the Anchorage Press each week.
The alternative weekly newspaper has ended publication of its print version and will instead focus on its online product and social media, it announced Friday on Facebook.
Wick Communications, an Arizona-based media company that in Alaska owns the Press and the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, told the paper's tiny staff about the plans on Friday, said O'Hara Shipe, the editor, in a phone call.
"It's a travesty," Shipe said.
Wick laid off Shipe and the only other full-time office employee for the paper, longtime saleswoman Bridget Mackey, with little warning, Shipe said.
The newspaper also pays many freelancers and employs three distribution employees, Shipe said. She wasn't sure what happened to those distribution workers, she said.
Kim Benedict, group publisher for Wick, declined to answer questions Friday in an interview about the changes at the newspaper.
In a prepared statement, Wick said the newspaper has faced "sizable losses this year" and needed to change course.
"Over the past year, The Anchorage Press will have incurred nearly $150,000 in losses," the statement said. "Beginning with the pandemic which materially impaired arts and entertainment, to challenges in hiring and retaining talent from the great resignation, The Anchorage Press has been in a tailspin."
Inflation has affected costs this year for the print version, too, the company said.
In the statement, Benedict said that online traffic at anchoragepress.com shows that readers prefer the Press' digital products. The site will continue to promote local events and features like the recently completed Press Picks, the statement said.
"We appreciate all of the community support we've received over the years and hope that will continue as we move to fully adapt to our digital readership," Benedict said in the statement. "We will be removing the website paywall to accommodate our consumers and to continue to grow the Anchorage Press audience with news and entertainment information."
Shipe said she wasn't sure how the Press would move forward online after laying off its workers.
She said she was notified of her termination in the afternoon and was given an hour before her email was shut off. She quickly notified freelancers about the change and took steps to make sure they were paid, she said.
"I'm in shock," she said. "I feel it was heartless and the timing is absolutely awful (just before Christmas)."
"But for me the hardest part is not being able to properly send the Press off into the next chapter, to publicly thank the editors and (longtime former publisher) Nick Coltman and all the people who mentored me along away or to thank the community that has read this paper for 30 years. There's no respect being paid to how much this paper really meant to a lot of people."
The Anchorage Press was established in 1992 and became a local institution covering politics, arts and entertainment in Southcentral Alaska.
It was sold to Wick in 2006.
"The media landscape has changed and, across the world, publishers are adapting to the platforms that consumers prefer," the newspaper said on Facebook. "The Anchorage Press has a long history with Anchorage and surrounding-area readers and advertisers; however, overwhelmingly it's clear that our digital platform is the preferred avenue for the majority of our readers."
"We appreciate all of the community support we've received over the years and hope that will continue as we move to fully adapt to our digital readership," the newspaper said. "As of Dec. 16, we will no longer provide a print edition of the Anchorage Press."
Many alternative and city weeklies across the country have struggled in recent years, with the challenges compounded during the pandemic. In some cities, new publications have emerged.
Mackey said she had worked at the paper as a saleswoman for a quarter of a century, for much of that time under Coltman, one of the paper's original founders.
Mackey said the staff had been spread too thin recently.
She said the phones were ringing on Friday from customers expressing shock and wanting to hear about the paper's plans.
"I feel sad because I was committed to growing the paper," she said Friday. "The paper has always been the voice of the people, the life, the culture, what's really happening, the buzz around town."
Shipe said the Press has played a unique role, publishing products such as Prism Press, a magazine focused on LGBTQIA-plus issues, as well as Alaska Native Quarterly focused on Native profiles and issues. Its list of accomplishments also included a Bronze Medallion from the Society of Professional Journalists for distinguished community service.
Like publications nationally, the Press experienced declining print circulation over the years. About 5,500 free papers were distributed each Thursday from Chugiak to Girdwood, she said.
And appearing in the print paper has meant a lot to artists and musicians who were featured, even Alaska-grown band Portugal. The Man, which appeared on the cover in a story she wrote last year.
"They were so excited to be on the cover," she said. "It held that prestige even for musicians who had received a Grammy and traveled around the world. The Anchorage Press has meant a lot to a lot of people."
Wick said in the prepared statement that press releases about entertainment and community events can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.