Weekly newspaper industry booming

Friday, January 13, 2017 - 01:13
Two new papers circulating in Chugiak-Eagle River

The big news right now in Chugiak-Eagle River is, well, the news.

Since September, two new weekly newspapers have set up shop, including a local start-up that has the support of several longtime area journalists and a paper backed by an Arizona-based company that also owns papers in Anchorage, the Mat-Su and on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

The first new paper on the block was the Eagle River, Chugiak Herald Observer (ECHO News for short), which inched its way into the market in September. Editor-in-chief John “LJ” Kennedy of Eagle River Printing (which publishes the monthly Eagle River Cache advertising magazine) said he jumped at the chance to add a community newspaper to his plate.

“We just wanted to find a way to serve our community,” said Kennedy, who laid out the new venture in a Dec. 16 interview.

Kennedy said he’d been featuring some limited editorial content in the Cache for months prior to starting the new paper. One month, he didn’t – and readers beat him up for it.

“We actually had a huge response,” he said.

He and former Chugiak-Eagle River Star writer Amy Armstrong had spoken at Chamber of Commerce meetings about community news in the past, and Kennedy said each liked the other’s style.

“We said, ‘We’re missing some good stuff from our community, we want something that is only our community, nothing about Anchorage, nothing about Wasilla, nothing off the wire,” he said.

Kennedy said he’s the type of person who likes to try new things, especially when it comes to media. The paper will be available online and in print, and content from all his publications will likely bleed into the others.

With a background in marketing and online content, Kennedy said content producers can’t afford to be set in their ways.

“When you have fresh ideas and new content coming out, that’s just how you drive traffic,” he said.

Armstrong took the lead as the paper’s managing editor, Kennedy said, with a bundle of contributors whose bylines may be familiar to longtime area newspaper readers. Chief among that crop is Lee Jordan, who founded the weekly Star newspaper in 1971 and has been penning a “HistorcLee” column about local history. Also scooped up by the paper were longtime area outdoor columnist Frank Baker, local photographer Dan Shepard and several other regular contributors and a couple interns.

“We’ve got people submitting things every week,” he said.

Kennedy said there’s been a lot of interest from people wanting to contribute opinion pieces, too, proof the paper is having an impact.

“Everybody’s just kind of jumping on board,” he said.

Kennedy said the aim of the ECHO News is to focus on local hyper-content like high school sports, community council and club news, public safety, new business openings and anything else that might interest the people of Chugiak-Eagle River. So far, things are clipping right along.

“It’s been amazing,” said Kennedy, who noted the paper can be found on racks at about 70 locations in the area.

Kennedy referred anyone interested in the paper to (907) 694-2933 or online at echoak.com.

Eagle lifts off

The other addition to the local media landscape is the Eagle, a publication run by Wick Communications of Arizona. Wick also owns the thrice weekly Wasilla-based Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman, as well as the weekly Anchorage Press and the Arctic Warrior.

Publisher Dennis Anderson said the paper mailed its first edition last week to targeted households in Chugiak and Eagle River. The plan is to also have about 15-20 racks places at area businesses. With three other papers in the area, Anderson said Wick wanted to bulk up its presence in C-ER.

“It’s a good market,” he said Monday of the area, home to roughly 30,000 people.

Anderson said Wick plans to launch a web version of the paper (oureaglenews.com) this month. He said Frontiersman editor Matt Hickman will oversee the editorial content, with staff writers from the company’s various other papers called upon to pitch in.

The two new weeklies enter a print newspaper landscape that already includes the Star and the Alaska Dispatch News, the area’s only daily print which also operates the most heavily trafficked news website in Alaska.

Kennedy said the crowded local media market is “kind of odd,” but said he’s hopeful greater interest in community news will offset any downside to having three weekly papers in town.

“We look at this as healthy competition,” he said.

Instead of railing against the competition, Kennedy said he’s taking the approach that more news is good news.

“Our slogan is, ‘It’s about our community, by our community, for our community,’” he said.

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