In Alaska, $0.00 can buy you a gulp of fresh mountain air or it could buy a small bi-weekly newspaper.
The Skagway News — "Serving the Gateway to the Klondike" off and on since 1897, according to the newspaper's motto — is for sale by publisher Larry Persily. He announced the newspaper's sale price of $0 in November and, since then, about 150 potential buyers have inquired.
Persily said Monday he has narrowed the list to six and will likely pick a new owner before year's end. He cited inquires from as close as Alaska, Washington and Oregon and as far away as Israel and Ukraine.
"Most of them were practicing journalists," he said. "But some are former journalists who left the profession for economic reasons and would like to get back."
Skagway, population 1,150, is one of Alaska's quirkier locales, a place that holds the Guinness World Record for most people in an egg toss and the host of an annual drag show at the Red Onion Saloon. Local police reports will frequently feature "bear activity." Roughly a million ship passengers flood the town annually during Alaskan cruises.
The next Skagway News owner must know these facts but more importantly must be willing to get to know the city on an even deeper level, Persily said.
"I want someone to get the opportunity to do good things with the paper and for the town," he wrote in an op-ed last month. "If that means setting them up in business for free, so be it."
In the piece, Persily said the ideal person would be willing to move to the town. He cites another newspaper owner who lives in the coverage area who has worked in other small Alaskan towns like Ketchikan and Petersburg. The Skagway newspaper — with a circulation between 900 and 1,200 — should have the same setup, Persily said.
"An owner/editor who is active in the community and who knows the community and its residents can best reflect and represent those residents," he explained.
Persily's offer comes when revenue at local newspapers in America have plummeted and entire publications have vanished. More than 65 million Americans live in counties where there's only one local newspaper or none at all, according an analysis from the University of North Carolina.
A November report from the Brookings Institution found that U.S. newspaper advertising revenue hit $71 billion in 2000 before plummeting about $30 billion a decade later. Last year, total ad revenue was $14.3 billion, Brookings said.
"Aggressive cost-cutting pursued by some the nation's largest local newspaper holding companies is also to blame for the local news crisis that confronts thousands of communities across the U.S.," said Clara Hendrickson, the Brookings researcher who authored the report. "Whether cash-strapped from the erosion of advertising revenue or under-resourced due to cost-cutting measures pursued by owners, newsrooms find themselves in the impossible situation of trying to do more with less as their newsroom staffs have been cut in half."
Data from the Pew Research Center earlier this year found that newsroom employee count fell to 86,000 last year from 114,000 in 2008 — a 25% drop.