Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

CVN's 1st edition published 50 years ago this week

 


Ray Menaker, a 43-year-old Haines High School French teacher, and Bill Hartmann, a 17-year-old student, launched the town’s newspaper 50 years ago this week.

They printed it in Hartmann’s basement on a second-hand, Chandler & Price platen press that produced only a single page at a time.

“The headlines had to be hand set. It took an entire day to print 250 copies of a four-page paper,” Hartmann, 67, recalled this week. Menaker, who owned the paper 20 years, died last September.

Their new creation had no name. The pair sat up one night thinking up 18 potential newspaper names they printed across the top of the first edition, including Haines Independent Grapevine, plus a blank space for a suggested name. They asked readers to decide.

“I was kind of partial to Haines Independent Grapevine,” Hartmann said.

The paper had germinated from Hartmann’s printing hobby – he started printing dance tickets and notepads on a hand press in 1962 – and Menaker’s interest in journalism.

News stories in the Jan. 3, 1966 paper included ones about plans to create a performing arts center from the former E & R Hall at Port Chilkoot, start-up of an Alaska Forest Products sawmill at Jones Point and an effort by Haines Sportman’s Association to purchase 75 acres on Mud Bay Road for a recreation site.

Besides a community calendar, the paper included bowling and city league basketball scores, the ferry schedule and a welcome from City of Haines Mayor Ed Novak.

In an editorial, publisher Menaker asked readers whether Haines and Port Chilkoot should join into a single city and whether creation of a borough was needed. He also asked about the Vietnam War and whether the town needed a sewage treatment plant. “Or shall we continue to pollute the bay until we’ve grown larger, and the situation has become intolerable?” he asked.

The first newspaper, which contained about a page of advertising, had no photos and cost 15 cents. But in terms of local media, it was a big improvement.

In the 1960s, local news came through the coffee shop and news of the world arrived by mail or by putting up an antenna to pick up Juneau AM stations, longtime residents said this week. “Depending on what part of town you lived in and if you had an aerial, you could get radio in your house,” said Carol Waldo, who moved here as a child in 1948. “When somebody got news, they’d tell other people.”

Local newspapers weren’t unknown. At least eight had been published here since 1899, according to Sheldon Museum records, but only two had lasted even a decade, and those had been published by the local school district and the U.S. Army.

In its first year, the CVN was published twice a month. Menaker squeezed in hours away from his full-time teaching job and Hartmann received credit in Menaker’s journalism class by printing the paper and Haines High School’s Chilkat Breeze, a historic student newspaper the pair revived in the fall of 1965.

When Hartmann went off to college to study journalism, Menaker and Hartmann’s father, the town’s Presbyterian minister, put out the paper. By 1974, the Chilkat Valley News featured “un-classified” ads, a Menaker column titled “Chilkat Valley Muse” and a weather report. Its unorthodox look included a woodblock banner and, close by, this disclaimer: “Printed Weekly – Generally.”

Hartmann remembered one deadline when he and Menaker had three or four different heaters operating but couldn’t get the office above 45 degrees F. “Ray looked at me and said, ‘Let’s just put out the paper next week.’ Readers seemed to take it in stride. Subscribers paid for a certain number of issues, so their subscriptions wouldn’t run out until they got that many editions.”

The newspaper office moved from the Presbyterian Church manse, to a garage on Second Avenue, and on to the east barracks building at Fort Seward. Besides breakdowns while printing on aging, second-hand presses, hardships included slim advertising revenues that kept wages low. “I think if you averaged out my hours, I probably made about 50 cents an hour all the years I worked there,” Hartmann said.

The paper slowly carved a niche in the community, Hartmann said, but Menaker – who questioned U.S. involvement in Vietnam and was a founding member of Lynn Canal Conservation – was often under fire. “The reaction (to the paper) was good, but people didn’t like Ray. They were always grousing about something. But he worked incredibly hard those first couple years, with little or no credit.”

Longtime resident Waldo was one of Menaker’s critics. Waldo said Menaker was a good school teacher, but his politics weren’t sensitive to the challenges facing working-class people here. “People with a government job and income don’t worry too much about people who don’t have those things. Sometimes, if you don’t experience something, you don’t see it and feel it.”

But Waldo also said she is today grateful for the paper’s local government reporting “to make sure what they do is put out in front of the public.”

With the use of different presses, the newspaper’s shape and size changed over the years, but the big change came in June 1981 when an early-morning fire demolished the barracks, including the newspaper’s accounts and all its typesetting and printing equipment.

At the time, the CVN was merged with the Skagway News, as each paper had been struggling. Hartmann, Menaker and Jeff Brady of Skagway owned the operation, then called the Lynn Canal News. The cross-canal offices were linked by an old Associated Press teletype machine and Brady would come to town each week to help put the paper to bed.

On the night of the fire, Brady missed the ferry leaving Skagway.

“I still get emotional thinking about it,” Brady said this week. “I was supposed to be down there helping with the layout, but I flat out missed the ferry. I typically slept on a mattress in the backroom of the office. If I’d made the boat, I would have either burned up in that thing or caught (the fire).”

The blaze proved a turning point. Hartmann, who was married and struggling to maintain a family life, sold his interest in the paper to Menaker and Brady for $1.

A year later, the merger ended. “It was always a situation where people in Haines thought there was too much Skagway news and people in Skagway thought there was too much Haines news,” Brady explained. “We came to an agreement that it just wasn’t going to work.”

Destruction of the presses also cost the newspaper a valuable income stream – job printing. Dan Humphrey was working at Lynn Canal News at the time of the fire. Like Hartmann, he’d learned to operate presses and a darkroom as a teenager, then earned a college journalism degree.

The paper’s advertising revenue was only enough to cover pay for the paper’s advertising and bookkeeping position, Humphrey said. He and Hartmann paid for their keep by printing flyers, postcards, envelopes, letterhead, and local government notices after reporting, laying out, printing and delivering the newspaper.

“We’d push really hard the first part of the week to get the paper done, then as soon as we got some sleep, we’d start printing. That’s where a big chunk of the revenue came from,” Humphrey said.

After the fire, he bought some equipment and tried resurrecting the print business but an economic slump caused by closure of the Lutak sawmill and a downturn in commercial fishing killed the idea.

Humphrey moved south. Menaker kept the paper afloat with personal savings, income from publishing the town visitor’s guide, and community support. A loan from resident Retha Young helped the paper buy a typesetting machine and Georgia Haisler’s offer of free rent for several months prompted an office move to the paper’s present location on Main Street near Third Avenue.

In early 1986, retired school teacher Doris Ward launched “Duly Noted,” the CVN’s long-running social column. It became a repository for news about births, weddings, awards, and other notable bits.

“So many things go on that don’t deserve much space, but they deserve a mention because they’re history,” Ward explained this week. But it took a while for readers to understand the column’s purpose, she said.

“About 90 percent of people were suspicious. They’d say, ‘Why do you want my name?’ A lot of them had never had their names in the paper before,” Ward said.

Also in 1986, Menaker sold the paper to editor Janis Marston and Bonnie Hedrick, a college biology student whose typing skills landed her the job of operating the paper’s typesetting machine. Marston left town in early 1987, leaving Hedrick in charge.

“Once Ray Menaker turned over the reins of the paper, I felt a tremendous responsibility to continue his work,” Hedrick said this week. “It clearly was a labor of love for so many years, that I couldn’t imagine not keeping it up. Although it’s a for-profit business, I sort of considered it my community service.”

In her 27 years of ownership, Hedrick moved the paper from typewriters onto computers, increased advertising income, launched the CVN’s first website and weathered a five-year battle with an upstart competitor newspaper, the Eagle Eye Journal.

“I always considered the business successful if I could pay all the bills and pay myself. But after 20-plus years, as peers were retiring from similar-length careers at jobs that offered retirement, it finally became time for me to get another job that would cover those bases,” Hedrick said.

Hedrick sold the paper in July 2012. She said operating it consumed much of her personal life, but she learned a lot on a range of subjects, including human behavior, and built ties to residents she may not have otherwise met.

“By treating everyone with respect, I think I and the newspaper earned respect… My hope was that a well-informed population that’s exposed to a range of viewpoints, and one that engages in debate, will in the long run make better decisions than if we only listen to like-minded friends and neighbors,” Hedrick said.

Similarly, former employees said this week that their time at the CVN, though challenging, brought unexpected rewards. Humphrey went on to graduate school and worked as a college professor, overseeing a technical writing program.

“I totally used (the CVN) as a springboard for the work I did after that. Some of it I wouldn’t have been able to do without my Haines experience,” Humphrey said. “The same day you were writing in your yellow pad, you’d be printing and delivering newspapers. And every one of those things is a whole world of concerns of its own. It was amazing that we could do all those things.”

Sheri Loomis sold ads and kept the books at the paper for 10 years, starting in 1978. She used skills learned there to launch a successful lithographic business she operated out of her home. “I sustained myself for many years on what I learned at the CVN.” Loomis said working at the paper was exciting, for a while. “You had to be committed because it didn’t pay well… For young people, it’s energy-driven. You have a lot of contact with the community. You meet a lot of people and you hear a lot of things. It was fun when I was younger.”

After leaving journalism, CVN co-founder Hartmann worked as the Haines postmaster and as a nurse assistant.

Retired and living in Hawthorne, Nev., Hartmann still creates business forms and other materials at his Wild Rose Press, including for customers in Haines. “I still have ink on my fingers,” he said.

 
 

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