Klondike Sun turns 20

The newspaper business was long dead in 1989's Dawson City. Ninety years earlier, when the first prospectors made their way to the Klondike gold fields, newspapermen hadn't been far behind.

The newspaper business was long dead in 1989’s Dawson City.

Ninety years earlier, when the first prospectors made their way to the Klondike gold fields, newspapermen hadn’t been far behind.

Within months, the boomtown counted seven newspapers.

By 1909, only the Dawson Daily News survived. It was eventually renamed the Dawson News, then the Dawson Weekly News.

In 1954, the paper folded.

Local reporting limped along in a broken string of community newsletters.

Between 1980 and 1982, Kathy Jones-Gates and friend Jean Evans produced The Dawson Packet, a free summer newspaper printed at the Whitehorse Star presses.

“We figured out by the end of the season that once we’d paid for printing costs, distribution and everything we earned about 16 cents an hour,” said Jones-Gates.

Klondike Korner was a bi-weekly newsletter churned out on a Gestetner duplicating machine.

A typewriter would be used to cut out heavy wax-paper stencils. The stencils would be loaded onto a drum and ink would be forced through the text-shaped perforations.

City secretary Yolanda Burkhardt had access to the best typewriter. As a result, she was usually tasked with typing out the stencils.

Distribution was initially among friends. Soon, 300 to 400 readers had subscribed to Klondike Korner.

As demand for local news leapt higher, Dawsonites toyed with the idea of once again bringing local print media to their community.

“When a clutch of folk grasp an idea, that is good, but when an IDEA grasps a clutch of folk—that’s unbeatable,” wrote Klondike Sun vice-president Sue Ward in the inaugural edition of the paper.

Around tables at the Dawson Public Library—community members started brainstorming.

Within months, an editorial board was appointed, writers were conscripted and the first issue of the Klondike Sun was printed on May 25, 1989.

“Simply put, the goal of the paper was to get Dawson City’s real story out there,” said Jones-Gates.

“Whether there’s 1,000 people or 10,000 people in Dawson, there’s an awful lot going on there,” she said.

Yukon media, be it radio, TV or print, is mostly Whitehorse-centric.

When Dawson does make headlines, it’s usually negative, said Sun editor Dan Davidson.

“We’re not avoiding negatives, but we’re not concentrating on them either,” he said.

“This doesn’t have a, ‘if it bleeds, it leads,’ kind of philosophy.”

The Sun’s latest cover story profiled eight Dawsonites who assisted in relief for flood-stricken Eagle, Alaska.

“That’s probably not going to make front page news in either of the two Whitehorse papers,” said Davidson.

The Klondike Sun’s name is an amalgamation of the Klondike Nugget and the Midnight Sun—two rival gold-rush-era Dawson City papers.

“Publishing a newspaper in Whitehorse certainly has its challenges but to publish for 20 years in a small community like Dawson City is another order of magnitude more difficult,” said Yukon News publisher Steve Robertson, whose presses churn out the Klondike Sun.

Yukon businesses leapt on board the project.

Soon, the newly founded Klondike Sun was counting 100 ads from the community, said Madeleine Gould, the paper’s original chief of ad sales.

Madeleine Gould can sell “space to Martians,” read an editorial in the paper’s first issue.

Yukon-born author Pierre Berton held a soft spot for the bi-weekly publication.

As a 10-year-old, Berton “began his journalistic career” by delivering his mother’s copy to the offices of the Dawson Daily News.

Editor Harold Malstrom “had the stumps of his fingers, mangled in his linotype machine, to prove his dedication to his craft,” wrote Berton.

Until his death in 2004, Berton had copies of the Sun delivered to his Toronto home.

The Klondike Sun occasionally ran excerpts from Berton’s books—royalty-free, of course.

“It’s good to see that a new Sun has risen. If it’s anywhere near as feisty as its predecessors, it deserves a long run,” wrote Berton in a guest editorial for the paper’s first issue.

Serving a market of just over 1,000 people, “cash flow is sometimes difficult, but we do manage to stave off the bill collectors,” said Davidson.

The Klondike Sun takes shape on a trio of near-obsolete computers. An eight-year-old eMac is the paper’s most modern machine.

The paper’s Front Street office was secured in a deal with city council. In return, city officials are assured free ad space.

“The paper has never been about making money, just about making enough to get by, which confuses a lot of people who enjoy playing with business plans,” wrote Davidson in 2006.

Three times, Dawson entrepreneurs have tried their hand at establishing a for-profit competitor.

The Klondike Sun has buried all of them.

“None of those have had any staying power,” said Davidson.

More and more, online services are diminishing the requirement for paper-based community publications.

Online, modern Dawsonites can count on a ride-share board, a rental board and classifieds page.

Even the Sun is available as a download from the Dawson City’s website.

“If the (Klondike Sun’s) printing bill ceased … the dollars would stay in the community and quite possibly turn into another badly needed job,” read a 2006 post on the Dawson City Citizen’s Forum.

“Replacing a newspaper with a electronic image of a newspaper on a computer monitor is like sitting at home expanding your network of Facebook friends instead of going to the pub,” shot back a reply.

Contact Tristin Hopper at

tristinh@yukon-news.com

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