The Peninsula Clarion stops the press
It’s 12:30 a.m., technically Saturday morning, and the Peninsula Clarion’s press is running its last ever issue.
Normally, the press doesn’t run quite this late, but Sports Editor Jeff Helminiak asked to hold off, so he could finish a story about the Kenai River Brown Bears losing their final game in overtime.
The Clarion’s owner, Washington-based Sound Publishing, announced this spring that the Clarion and Sound’s other daily Alaska paper, The Juneau Empire, would reduce to printing two days a week and begin printing off-site. The Homer News, which is owned by Sound and prints weekly, will also start printing off site.
Sound has not said where it will print the papers, following the location change. But it’s decommissioning the Peninsula Clarion’s local press, which ran for the last time ever late Friday night.
In a letter, the publisher said producing a paper five days a week has become “unaffordable and unsustainable,” and that the Clarion will focus more on digital content going forward.
That means the almost 60-year-old press that has produced the Clarion for three decades will head into storage. Clarion Pressman Eric Trevino is losing his job, as a result.
“Working at the paper gave me a sense of community, I felt like I was a part of this community,” he said. “I wasn’t a transfer from out of state anymore.”
Trevino moved to the central peninsula from Albuquerque in 1996. He started at the Clarion press in 2009, what he saw then as a temporary role between jobs on the North Slope. More than a decade later, he’s its final operator.
Trevino said it was a good fit from the start.
“You can tell in the first 10, 15 minutes, if there’s a new guy working, whether they’re gonna stay or not. Because you can just tell. It’s kind of hard to describe, it's just a feeling,” he said. “You can see it on people, it’s either too much for them, or like, ‘this is cool.’ For me, it was, ‘this is cool.”’
He became enamored with the work, and never returned to the oil fields.
Five nights a week, Trevino would take the newspaper from PDF to paper, on the blue, two-story-tall press. He said it’s pretty grueling work that requires pressmen to be on their feet all night, running up ladders to make adjustments to the colors.
It takes about 15 minutes to print 1,100 copies of the Clarion. The first papers usually come out of the machine with issues, and Trevino makes adjustments until he’s satisfied with the look. Then, he starts doing what he calls “saving papers” — setting aside the official copies that will see newsstands.
“It’s nerve wracking. There’s so many parts and switches, and you’ve gotta do them in a certain order,” he said.
Early Saturday morning, Trevino oversaw the last ever run of the press. He said in the weeks leading up, it was sad to come to work, knowing how soon it would be over. He said he’ll avoid driving past the press once he leaves for good, to avoid the painful memory.
“It would be one thing if I didn’t care for my job, it might have been not so hard to say goodbye,” he said. “Just sadness, thinking back, good memories, bad memories, mostly good, just wishing there could be a different solution.”
Trevino said there’s something meaningful about the physicality of paper news. He said he’s nostalgic about paper, and thinks the community will be, too, even though the number of print subscribers has gone down since the paper’s earlier days. He said when he started at the Clarion, he would print closer to 3,500 or 4,000 copies of each issue — nearly four times what he prints today.
Luckily, the final run was nearly perfect.
“I laughed about that when I went home,” he said. “When I look back, however many years, I’ll think ‘At least my last run was a good one.’”
The A1 story on the last issue is a retrospective on the press itself, a collaboration between reporters Ashlyn O’Hara and Jake Dye headlined “Stopping the Press.” The lead photo is of Trevino, running the machine.
When the final papers rolled out off the press, the Clarion’s small team of reporters and editors celebrated over sparkling apple juice as they rifled through the press’s last ever production, still wet with ink.