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Stop the Press 

Durham puts McKinleyville's hometown paper on the block

Local news merchant Jack Durham sits in his sunny, cozy office behind his office phone, keyboard and a ’90s desktop Mac computer. Hundreds of issues of faded McKinleyville Press newspapers are strewn haphazardly on the bookshelves that line the sidewall. A wooden pachinko machine leans against the back wall. He says he’s taking that with him when he leaves. That’s not for sale.

Suddenly, one of his buddies from the chiropractor’s office downstairs barrels through the doorway. “Everyone knows it’s for sale!” he yells. “Four people asked me about it today! I’m not telling you who.” Then the guy does an about-face and walks out. Durham sits there at his desk with this big cheesy grin on his face.

The rumors are true. Jack Durham, the editor-and-chief, publisher, copy editor, writer, photojournalist, advertising rep, layout artist and king of McKinleyville’s only newspaper -- the McKinleyville Press-- is selling his ship. 30 Gs. That’s what it costs to become the Mack of Newspapers in Mack Town.

The big news broke out of the cage a couple weeks ago, and word travels fast, said Durham. Because everywhere he goes now, especially up in McKinleyville, people stop to ask him if the shocking gossip is true. It is.

He didn’t advertise the sale in his own paper, he said, that would just be weird. Right now, the Press is listed among $600,000 homes as a piece of property through Azalea Realty. “It’s the cheapest listing on there,” said Durham.

On a warm, blue-skied McKinleyville day last Thursday, Durham and SheriLynn Silvernail (co-publisher) sat beneath the world’s tallest totem pole. Together they sounded as happy and giddy as can be. “It’s our baby,” said Silvernail. “Now we are giving it up for adoption. We’re selling our baby. First come, first serve.” They laughed hysterically.

Durham and Silvernail started up the McKinleyville Press back in ’96. They’ve been trucking along for 13 years, and as of last week, they were on issue numero 625. “That’s 625 deadlines,” Durham said. “That’s a lot of deadlines.”

Durham says it’s not like he hates the newspaper realm, but he just needs to do something else for right now. A life change, so to speak. “It’s our 13th year, and we’re kind of tired,” he said.

Durham said that since he listed the Press, a couple of people have called him up and asked him to explain the nuts and bolts of manning a newspaper. So far, he’s had no biters. He wouldn’t name any names. However, he would comment that everyone interested is what he calls “newspaper people,” journos, to a certain degree. Some are locals, he said, some are not. That’s all the information he could disclose at this time, he said. He was giving somewhat of a “no comment."

Not being a journo will be something new for Durham. He’s been in the biz since he was 18. He majored in journalism at Humboldt State University, where he reported for TheLumberjack. After his college stint, he worked at the now defunct Arcata Union with local media superstars such as the Arcata Eye’s Kevin Hoover, KHSUs Katie Whiteside, and the Journal’s Bobby Doran.

After the Union was shut down in ’95, all the employees were dispersed into the community and beyond. Durham had a short stint at the Humboldt Beacon, along with Kevin Hoover. Durham started up the Press six months after he quit that job. He was 28.

It was a big day, and a long night. Durham and Silvernail were brand new newspaper chiefs way back then, and they were freaked out. They said that putting out the first issue was a real nightmare. “We stayed up all night just laying out the pages,” said Silvernail. This was way back when the text was cut out with scissors and the pages were pasted up with wax. The whole shebang was produced on a clunky grayish-white computer called a Mac 6200. Durham still has the thing sitting on a bottom shelf in his office.

They made it through the debacle. The first issue of the McKinleyville Press hit the streets the next day – Aug. 20, 1996.

At that time, Durham wasn’t alone in his newspapering endeavors. Nine weeks after the Press made its grand debut, the first issue of Kevin Hoover’s newspaper -- the Arcata Eye -- was set loose in Arcata. Although the Press and the Eye were two brand-spanking new papers in neighboring towns, it was never a big competition, they said. It was more like a brotherhood.

“He would run into me around town and ask me when I was going to start up my paper,” said Hoover.

Durham said there was one thing Hoover trumped him on in the first issue. The page layout. “His was way better,” said Durham.

Now both papers have risen up and have been going strong for 13 years. Like Durham, Hoover said it never ends.

“You become this job," he said. "You need to know every little thing that goes on. Every single thing you experience becomes this job. You give everything you have and more."

So, Mr. or Ms. New Owner, be prepared for what lies ahead. Durham said that he fully intends to train the new owner when he sells the Press and makes his grand exit. “It’s not like bam! I’m out. It’s a transition.” Durham said he’d really like to sell his paper to someone who wants to build upon -- to add to -- the McKinleyville Press as it is, and not dismantle the whole thing.

“I just want someone who can handle the commitment and is not going to run the thing in the ground,” said Durham. “The truth be told, they (the new owners) are going to do what they are going to do with it. Whoever owns it, owns it.”

But there is one prototype Durham definitely doesn’t want to see take over the reigns. “I don’t want a bunch of activists running the thing,” he said.

His future plans? Durham’s always wanted to bicycle down the 101 to San Francisco, and he might just do that after the Press sells and he has some time off. He said he doesn’t have any concrete plans as far as a career, but he still wants to freelance write in the community, even for the new owners of the Press. The reporter in him is not dead; he just doesn’t want to be the captain of the McKinleyville media ship anymore.

So what exactly do you get for 30,000 bucks? Well, you get all the newspaper racks, “presumably the writers and columnists,” computers, software, the subscription list, legal ads, the advertisers and all the archives. But remember, not the pachinko machine.

Sound appealing? Want ultimate press power in McKinleyville, Calif.? The expected mortgage payments are only $143 a month, according to Azalea Realty. But keep in mind: “It takes a lot of energy to put out a paper every week,” said Durham. “Someone dies, you get the flu. You still have to put out the paper.”

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