This week’s issue marks the last time that Sonoma West Times & News will be printed on paper—barring the deus ex machina of a local newspaper-loving billionaire. (Running a print paper, even a small one like ours, is so expensive I’m not sure a mere millionaire would do.)
If you’ve been reading publisher Rollie Atkinson’s front page missives for the last several weeks, you’ll know that because of the pandemic, paid advertising — the grease that kept the printer rolling — has all but disappeared from our pages. In truth paid advertising was slowly (then not-so-slowly) evaporating anyway, which is why the decision has been made to move to an all-digital format — and to form a nonprofit to support local community journalism.
I don’t know why this makes me feel so glum. One-hundred-and-thirty-one years in print, after all —which is how long this paper has been alive — is a pretty good run. And it’s not like we’re disappearing. In fact, as an online-only newspaper, we’ll be appearing to a wider circle of readers than we ever reached in print.
Technological change has been the watchword of my career in journalism. My first journalism job, as editor of The Sierra Club’s bay area newspaper, The Yodeler, involved transitioning the newspaper from paper and wax layout to digital layout.
Yes, children, we actually used to lay out the newspaper by cutting long glossy strips of thick paper, produced by a typesetter, rolling wax onto the back of them and sticking them onto boards made of thicker paper. I did this for a year. It was messy. The hot wax machine burned my fingers. One of my layout volunteers was legally blind. That is not a joke. I don’t miss those days.
I was happy to transition to digital layout — first with Microsoft Publisher, then with Quark, then with Adobe InDesign, each one a whole new system to learn but also a leap forward in sophistication. Instead of driving those paper boards over to a printer in the industrial section of town, you could just push a button and your high-resolution PDFs would fly to the printer through the ether. (Actually they fly through wires made of glass, which is even weirder if you think about it.)
After The Yodeler, I worked as a reporter at an alternative weekly in Berkeley, the East Bay Express, for the next 15 years. It was blast and a hot house. Nowadays, every single person at that paper, including me, would be sued for sexual harassment. It was grand.
Halfway through my journalism career, though, I saw the writing on the wall and retrained as a web designer, mostly because I wanted to be the master of the means of production, as Marx would say. Who wanted to be a part of what was called “dead tree journalism” anyway?
And that’s how I came to this paper — as a web designer, with a handy background in journalism. I designed the current website four years ago. It’s time for a facelift, and I suppose you’ll be seeing that soon as part of the digital transition — a new look for the new digital-only age. I won’t be a part of that because as a part of our transition to digital, we’re also moving to a daily news cycle as opposed to a weekly news cycle and that won’t leave any time for web work.
Of Sonoma West Publisher’s four newspapers — Sonoma West, The Healdsburg Tribune, The Windsor Times and the Cloverdale Reveille — only The Healdsburg Tribune, a 155-year-old paper, will remain in print.
I don’t know why this makes me so sad.
The thing is – I only read things online. I don’t even like print newspapers. I don’t like the brittle, cheap paper they’re printed on or the way they make you want to wash your hands after reading them. Or the fuzzy quality of the photos.
But we won’t have to worry about that any more at Sonoma West because we’re finally doing what I’ve been recommending all along — making the leap into the bright, back-lit future of online-only journalism.
I don’t know why that makes me so sad.
Laura Hagar Rush is the editor of Sonoma West Times & News.