Former AAN Paper Tacoma Reporter Folds

Former AAN paper Tacoma Reporter has folded after a lengthy struggle to stay afloat in tough economic times. The small, 24,000 circulation weekly, founded in 1996, appears to have published its final issue sometime around mid-August.

The paper’s owners did not return calls for this story, and managers of shops and stores where the weekly was distributed say delivery toward the end was spotty, so they couldn’t pinpoint the exact date of the final edition. Dominic Accetturo of Colliers International, the company that leased space to the Reporter in downtown Tacoma, says the weekly’s staff made a sudden move from its office at 1517 S. Fawcett Avenue sometime over the New Year’s holiday in early January.

The paper’s masthead continued to list the Fawcett Avenue address, although its final editions were not put together in that space. The broken lease and faux address were the final chapter in the familiar story of a poorly capitalized paper sucked under by a faltering economy.

As the rest of the country slid into recession following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the Pacific Northwest dove in hard and fast. In fact the dot-com collapse had already begun to hurt the regional economy. Add Boeing layoffs in the wake of the air-travel nosedive, and joblessness in Washington state skyrocketed; it now has the nation’s highest unemployment rate. For many small businesses — companies without big reserves of capital with which to weather the downturn — it was a near-death experience, and that was certainly the case for the Tacoma Reporter.

“We don’t have any financing or any deep pockets,” Reporter editor and publisher Matt Youngmark said in an early February interview. “We don’t have any kind of pockets, you know, we’re in sweat pants.

“The last year was a rough year for us economically,” he continued. “We had a huge falloff in revenues after September 11, 2001. It was immediate and it was huge. We basically had to make immediate cuts to deal with that, and as we laid off staff people and so forth, it became harder to sell advertising. We were on a bit of a downward spiral.”

That spiral was headed downward so quickly — revenue was cut in half, from a $600,000 annual base — that by the following year, Youngmark and Jeff Daniel, his partner and the paper’s acting publisher, were trying to get rid of the Reporter altogether. The two went so far as to discuss a buyout with Richard Meeker, publisher of Willamette Week in Portland and head of its publishing company, City of Roses. However, late in 2002, Meeker decided it wasn’t a good fit and the timing wasn’t right, so no transaction occurred. But the veteran alt-weekly publisher did offer Daniel and Youngmark a glimmer of hope.

“During our meeting with Richard (Meeker), when he declared that he just wasn’t interested right now, he also stated that this market is going to be ripe in the future,” Daniel said, also in a February conversation.

Indeed, the industrial port town of Tacoma, forty-five minutes south of Seattle, is witnessing a downtown arts and culture renaissance with the recent opening of native son and internationally renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly’s glass museum, as well as a surge of business development. All of the pieces that gave Meeker optimism for the city’s future should come into place by the time the regional economy limps out of recession.

Unfortunately, the Reporter wasn’t able to hang on long enough.

Daniel, originally the owner of the paper, had some personal debt tied to the company finances, so Youngmark created a new company in his name at the beginning of 2003.

“Basically the ownership change came about because the old corporation, the old company, had some debt, and it was kind of bogged down with that,” Youngmark explained back in February. “All that debt is in Jeff’s name, and so I created a brand new company to take over the reigns and publish the paper and separate it from previous problems that we had with that.”

By that point, though, a nominal change in ownership — along with staff cuts, limited page counts, and shorter stories — was too little too late to buoy the struggling weekly.

John Ferri is a freelance writer based in Tacoma, Wash.