Bellingham Herald may cease publishing

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• In News Media,

Today, McClatchy stock is trading at 74 cents a share - down 99% in value from their high of $74.50 in 2005. McClatchy was a $5 billion company when it bought the Bellingham Herald in 2006. This morning it is a $60 million dollar company with over $2 Billion is debt. Their stock closed yesterday at 89 cents - down from $2.50 just two weeks ago.

Our daily newspaper may cease to exist within a few weeks.. It may be sold to any of 5 or 6 other companies and be continued as a daily or perhaps a semiweekly or weekly. If no one buys then it may just end. That has happened to other papers and other cities. On July 8, I posted an article about McClatchy’s pending demise. You haven’t read about this in the Herald. Understandably, they are probably petrified over this.

McClatchy is failing because the board of directors made some bad decisions. They paid too much for other failing newspapers. And they, along with virtually every newspaper owner in the country, have failed to find a new business model for daily newspapers. The old model, good for over 100 years, is in tatters. Dysfunctional. Useless.

Within a week or two, we should learn that McClatchy has sold the Herald building to a local developer. That deal is being put together now. The “plans” of McClatchy are to continue printing the Herald at the Skagit Valley Herald’s new print facility in Mount Vernon. But, as of just a couple weeks ago, there was still no signed contract. I doubt it has been signed yet - and I doubt it will be signed. McClatchy cannot responsibly sign any long term contracts. I think they will declare bankruptcy in January.

Can we do anything? Here in Bellingham? Well, yes, I think there is something. We could form a community corporation and offer to buy the Herald from McClatchy. There might be competition from the Skagit Valey Herald, Sound Publishing (owners of the Bellingham Business Journal) and perhaps from some other local business persons. David Syre and Bob Hall jointly own the Cascadia Weekly and Syre might become interested in the Herald instead. There may be still others.

The timing of this post could be better - and it was planned for the first week in January. There is no desire to bring bad news at this time. But a week ago I predicted to some business acquaintances that McClatchy stock prices would drift from the then $1.50 a share to about a dollar by Jan 1. Then it happened in two days. Now it is falling into the never land below a dollar with nothing to save it. And if we in this community want to continue to have a newspaper then we need to start talking and planning now on how to organize and return the Herald to local ownership - as it was up until 1967.

Do you want the Herald to continue? Do we have the local leadership to organize and buy it? You will soon be hearing local mucky mucks talking about this as the Herald and McClatchy become unable to hide the truth of their fate. But neither the Weakly nor the Herald have informed you of what is happening before you have read it here. Yet the owners of both papers know well what is happening. Perhaps there is a place for NwCitizen after all.

I hope we do save the Herald. I think it can be made into a self sustaining newspaper - just not a daily. Many excellent people work at the Herald and they are the base for a revived newspaper. Will we now hold our breath, hope some shining knight buys it and then accept whatever they give us for lousy local reporting? Or do we have the moxie to organize and buy the Herald as a community organization and bring real reporting back? Green Bay residents own the Packers. We residents could own our newspaper.

About John Servais

Citizen Journalist and Editor • Fairhaven, Washington USA • Member since Feb 26, 2008

John started Northwest Citizen in 1995 to inform fellow citizens of serious local political issues that the Bellingham Herald was ignoring. With the help of donors from the beginning, he has [...]

Comments by Readers

Bob Aegerter

Dec 24, 2008

I am sorry to see the McClatchy name go down in flames.  The Sacramento Bee was once one of my favorite sources or reliable environmental reporting.  It was never clear to me if interests behind Knight-Ridder bought and milked McClatchy or if McClatchy became too greedy in the bubble.  Newspapers may need to give up newsprint and operate on the web.  Fine with me.  But it would mean an almost entirely new staff for the Herald.

I’m am sad about the building.  It is nice to see an occasional building from the ‘20’s still being used for its original intent.

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John Servais

Dec 24, 2008

Actually, the Herald could probably rent offices in the Herald Building - regardless of who the new owners of both the newspaper and the building might be.  That would probably be desired by the new building owner.  And would be most appropriate for continuity of the newspaper itself.

I’ve added a photo of the main building entrance - above.

The building is in real need of inside renovation but the exterior is beautiful.  Personally, I think there are good reasons of business continuity, tradition and community affection for keeping the offices there.  I can’t say what firm it is, but know the probable new owner wants to keep the Herald there. Our best chance for all this is if a locally owned corporation owns the Herald.

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Tip Johnson

Dec 27, 2008

We already know that the prospective buyer of the Herald Building is a principal in the Cascadia Weekly.  He and his partners have a vested interest in local publishing and obvious access to capable investors. Keeping a Herald lease at that location would preserve a lot of the building’s value for investors. This could be a match made in…well, there could be some debate over where, but a match just the same.  Might we soon expect to see a Cascadia Herald?

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