Former Chilkat Valley News editor Lex Treinen works from the Main Street office on Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2023, in Haines, Alaska. (Rashah McChesney/Chilkat Valley News)

After a year of serving as editor for the Chilkat Valley News, Lex Treinen is stepping down. 

Treinen found his way into the role, and Haines, when former owner Kyle Clayton called. Clayton, whose family was preparing for the arrival of his son Callahan, said he had been looking for someone to take over for some time. 

And, as people who known Treinen often say, he showed up – seemingly out of nowhere – at just the right moment. 

“I was kind of desperate and it’s kind of all a blur. Somehow I got this number and called him and he was enthusiastic and he was like a gift because I really needed someone competent,” Clayton said. 

Treinen, of Anchorage, was coming off of the heels of award-winning coverage of his hometown.

“I remember that like a month before I reached out to him we were sitting across from each other at the Press Club,” Clayton said. “He won a [Public Service Award]  – the most prestigious one in the state – for a story he broke in Anchorage about some political corruption.”

Even though Treinen had no experience editing a paper – Clayton said he had full confidence. 

“He had never run a newsroom before but neither did I when I went to the CVN,” Clayton said. “I just knew that he was a damn good reporter and that’s all – that’s like the number one criteria.”

When Treinen came in, Clayton said he hit the ground running. And, he also taught Clayton a few things about taking the stress of the job into stride. Like the weekly crunch of assembling the paper. Clayton, who said he still feels the tremors of deadline-day stress, saw Treinen doing his weekly afternoon Tai-Chi ritual one Wednesday.  

“I saw Lex in there and I realized, ‘Oh my god, I was doing it all wrong,’” Clayton said. “He’s a secret genius, absolutely.” 

Socially, Clayton and others pointed out how quickly Treinen integrated into the community, getting into theater and musical performances and running open-mic nights at the Pioneer Bar.

“Hopefully it signaled to the community that I was interested in them outside of just my role as a newspaper editor,” Treinen said. 

But even that required some finessing. 

“There were definitely some times were people were having conversations that were very much not newspaper-related and people would get cagey about their answers because they didn’t want them in the paper,” he said. “I had to make it clear that I’m not alway a newspaper reporter and I have normal friendships with people.”

Treinen said he felt welcomed in Haines.  

“I remember you know I started playing soccer over the summer with a pickup group and the way I started was I was biking by the soccer field and some kids called me over because they needed an extra player. That became a social gathering that was very important to me throughout the summer and into the winter,” he said.

For his part, Treinen said he definitely felt the stress of taking over a community paper. 

“One of the most significant moments of my time was the last newspaper we put out the end of the year. We had it planned so that we were going to have a pizza party to celebrate Kyle’s last issues of the paper,” he said. 

Instead, at 3:30 p.m., a bombshell report trickled in that some $10 million had been spent on the Lutak Dock — potentially without appropriate federal approval. 

“So there I was rewriting the entire front page of the newspaper while everyone else was eating pizza merrily and I had my earplugs in trying to concentrate and just frantically hoping that I wouldn’t make a mistake or get something wrong and had all of my bases covered,” Treinen said. “So there’s that side of the whole newspapering-in-Haines thing that was certainly memorable. 

During his time, Treinen picked up coverage of Haines’ divisive assessment process, the ongoing battle over upgrades to the Lutak Dock, and city staffing issues.

But, he also found time to tell community-focused stories. Like a November feature about the Klukwan church being transferred to the tribe

“It was just a really nice experience,” he said. “It wasn’t anything flashy but it just felt that I was connecting with the church community and the Klukwan community and learning important history that’s being lived out today.” 

He also remembers some of the quirky stories he was able to tell over the past year. 

“I really enjoyed doing a story about the visitor’s center hiring influencers. It’s just something that’s really unexpected. When I first heard about it I thought – as many people would I think – ‘why the heck would we have an influencer in Haines?”

Of course, the real story is more complicated and nuanced. 

“Its an interesting story about how a small town markets itself to the world and how a small town can position itself to take advantage of its assets through social media,” he said. 

Among the things Treinen learned during his time at the paper were that you can never have enough copy editors. 

But he also honed his sense of what to cover and when to cover it – especially in a community where there’s a lot of pressure from a lot of different groups to cover things in particular ways. 

“I guess one thing that I learned throughout the whole thing was just that, at least in Haines, people seem to be willing to talk to you if you’re open-minded about it and explain the decisions that you make,” he said. “I think it’s always useful to be more transparent and open about the decisions we make as newspaper editors but I really appreciated that about my first experience being an editor that people were willing to listen to me. There were times I acknowledged mistakes or things I should have covered differently.” 

So many parts of being an editor, reporter, designer and overall captain of the newspaper ship is that you’re constantly balancing the capacity that you have and learning to prioritize. 

“At some point, you have to trust your gut and go with it and hopefully, as an editor I can improve on that,” he said. “If they let me be an editor again.”