Hey there, Healdsburg, how’ve you been? I miss you, and I miss being here on your op-ed page. I’m glad to stop in again, even for a week.

I was encouraged to write this column as a sort of backbeat to the codas of three weekly print newspapers. The Cloverdale Reveille, The Windsor Times and Sonoma West Times & News weekly newspapers aren’t going away, but they will stop printing this week, and three editors are saying goodbye to newsprint in their own pages, in their own ways.

Ray Holley column photo

Columnist Ray Holley

Those three newspapers are far from gone, but they are losing something powerful and potent, their historic identity as printed newspapers, after a combined 300-plus years of tangible evidence that local news matters.

Now, it will be up to those three editors, Heather, Laura and Zoë, and the company’s supporting cast to shrug off the bonds (and considerable costs) of print deadlines and delivery, and remake their publications as lively, dynamic and essential digital community assets.

In a pandemic. In a recession. In an accelerated pattern of massive declines in newspaper revenue. No pressure, ladies! If anyone can do it they can, and I hope you’ll help them, by helping the Trib.

As of today, The Healdsburg Tribune will persist, in print and online. As Sonoma West Publishers’ oldest and most successful publication, the 155-year-old Tribune is its flagship, and the small-but-steady revenue here helps provide vital continuity and coverage to the north and west county. In turn, those publications give the Tribune sisterhood, support and solace, as it stays alive week by plucky week.

To put the local news landscape in perspective: there is one daily newspaper in Sonoma County, nine weeklies and three monthlies (four if your definition of a newspaper is forgivingly elastic). One full third of those weeklies will now be digital-only, at least one more is close behind, one of the monthlies has abandoned print and none of these publications are fiscally stable.

When I left the Tribune in October 2018 (after two decades of connection, almost a third of my own life), economic supercells were gravid in the skies over small town newspapers. Now, the clouds have blown open and the future is pouring down hard.

I got away; like many journalists who reached their 60s and realized they had no pensions, I took a government job and I’m settled in, working from home but working. But, to be truthful, I feel a little sad, a little guilty, that I didn’t stay to help steward the “pivot to digital” that makes sense but scares the hell out of all ink-stained wretches.

So, I’m back for this one week, to mourn the past and salute the future. And yes, we do have to celebrate and embrace change. Heck, I read a dozen newspapers a week and only two of them (counting this one) actually show up at my house in physical form. If I can pay for and support online news, you can too.

I do hope that The Healdsburg Tribune, Enterprise and Scimitar (its full legal name, in case you were wondering) survives in print form.

The Tribune was here as the Civil War ended, it told us about electricity, automobiles, radio, air travel, penicillin, multiple world wars and military adventurings, the space race, the interstate highway, the civil rights movement, the computer … even print’s executioner, the love-it-hate-it-can’t-live-without-it internet was duly reported and explained here on these pages.

That’s the thing about the best newspapers; you may not like the editor’s politics (I recall that happening a few times) and you may get worked up once in a while about what you read, but in the best towns, you rely on the newspaper to show up every week and tell you about your neighbors, about your values, about your dreams and about yourself.

And, we can’t let that stop, not here. In Cloverdale, Windsor, Guerneville, Sebastopol, Monte Rio and elsewhere, our three sister newspapers (or whatever they’ll be called now) will uphold their values of fair and local reporting, and we know our good neighbors will be upset, but they’ll adapt.

I wonder if we’ll give in and adapt in Healdsburg? (We’re already a wired town, as you’ll learn if you dip a toe into the online septic tank of our local Nextdoor group) Will we keep and support our surviving print newspaper, as a symbol — not of clinging to the past, but of holding tight to our legacy? Will we renew our subscriptions, buy some ads, donate a few bucks?

I think we will. I think the best towns have everything they need, from car dealers to hardware stores, from hospitals to baseball teams, from ice cream shops to plumbers, from hotels to parks. And, the best towns have newspapers; authentic, messy and not-yet-obsolete print newspapers that spread over our kitchen tables, line our birdcages and on their best days, fill our hearts — with each other.

C’mon Healdsburg. We can do it.

Ray Holley believes in useful old things. He can be reached at rayholley@gmail.com.

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