Jack Durham: The Press Endures The Worst, Falters But Resists Seedy Suitors – August 23, 2011

Note: In celebration of the 15th anniversary of the McKinleyville Press, Editor Jack Durham looks back on the newspaper’s history in a four-part series. Last week he wrote about the weekly grind and the paper’s growth. Here is the third installment. – Ed.

In 15 years of printing, the worst-selling edition of the McKinleyville Press was the one that came out on Sept. 11, 2001. It was printed and mailed the day before the terrorist attacks.

The top headlines in that edition included “Philp says leadership needed in Sheriff’s Dept.” and “Wrangling continues over McKinleyville subdivision.” In the days following the terrorist attacks, people didn’t care at all about this local stuff, and I can’t blame them.

I was sleeping in the morning of Sept. 11, which was a Tuesday. I woke up, turned on the news and stared at the TV with disbelief. Surely this was just some weird aviation accident, right?

The horror unraveled, and I watched just long enough to get a sense of what was really happening. Then it was time to get to work.

After seeing what I had just seen on TV, I was a little paranoid, and I thought others might be feeling the same way.

So when I decided to go to the Arcata-Eureka Airport to see what was going on, I chose to do so on a bicycle. I knew there would be guys there with automatic weapons. Maybe they’d  be a little paranoid too. But a guy with a dorky bicycle helmet on a 10-speed is nice and non-threatening. When I arrived, there were deputies with rifles. It was surreal.

On Central Avenue, I came across Terrie Smith, who was holding a giant flag and marching up and down the street. That may seem odd now, but I understood what she was doing. On that day, and the days that followed, there was a tremendous amount of grief and a sense of powerlessness. You had to do something, even if it was just a symbolic act.

My job was to cover the Sept. 11 attacks, but from a purely local angle.

I interviewed the late Danny Wright of Westhaven, whose son, Tim Wright, was at the Pentagon when a jet smashed into the southwest side. Danny related that his son heard and felt the explosion, and that he assisted with recovery.

I wrote about the madness at the Arcata-Eureka Airport, where bomb walls were going up. McKinleyville residents were organizing blood drives and fundraisers.

Jen Butler, my McKinleyville High School correspondent, wrote about how students at the high school were coping. Jessie Faulkner found out what was going on at the elementary schools. All the Press opinion columnists weighed in on the attacks.

Hyper-local coverage

The post-Sept. 11 edition is good example of the paper’s mission to focus on local issues.

Sure, the big story of Sept. 11 was taking place 3,000 miles away on the other side of the continent. But it wasn’t this paper’s job to cover the story unless it was local.

Our job was to report what was happening on Central Avenue, not 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

I used to joke that if a nuclear bomb goes off in Humboldt County, it’s not a story that will appear in the McKinleyville Press unless the reporter finds a McKinleyville angle.

But I’ve loosened up over the years. I quickly realized that we needed to expand our coverage area, and that there are county-wide issues that can’t be ignored. When Daniel Mintz joined the Press in  2000, he offered to cover the Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission on a regular basis. I wasn’t going to turn that down.

Ever since Mintz joined the paper, we’ve had regular, consistent county-government coverage. We lost Jessie Faulkner to The Times-Standard a few years later. Then along came Elaine Weinreb after the Humboldt Advocate faded away.

Stories and names

When I sat down to reminisce about 15 years of newspapering, I envisioned writing about all the interesting stories that we’ve covered and all the scoops.

But why regurgitate old news stories that everyone has already read? I decided against doing that.

I’m also hesitant to name all the people who were part of the McKinleyville Press and helped the paper out over the years. Years ago, in a previous anniversary edition, I attempted to make a giant “thank you” list with all the people who helped – the writers,  photographers, columnists and others who pitched in and saved my hide time after time.

After that issue came out, I realized I left some names off it, so I thanked those folks in the following issue. After that, more names popped into my head. There are just too many.

But if you ever wrote for the paper, or helped me out, you know who you are, and you have my appreciation. Thank you.

McK Press becomes a broadsheet

The McKinleyville Press started as a tabloid. That’s a term most people associate with Hollywood gossip rags, but it actually refers to the size and format of the paper.

The Press was in a tabloid format, like today’s North Coast Journal but with fewer pages.

In October 2011, the Del Norte Triplicate informed us that its paper stock would be narrower, making the tabloid size even smaller. It was long overdue for the McKinleyville Press to grow up and become a broadsheet, like it is today.

A few years later, the Press started printing in full color. Then we split the paper into two sections – an A and a B. Eventually we were lured away from the Del Norte Triplicate in Smith River by the folks at Western Web. We started printing on their press in Fairhaven.

We were growing and I was always trying to make the paper bigger. When people would ask me how the paper was doing, I’d say “Great!” It seemed like the paper was booming. And maybe it was, but I couldn’t really say because I wasn’t in charge of the books or the banking. That was all done by my business partner.

I had faith that the business side was taking care of itself. The rent was getting paid and the electricity was still on, so it looked fine to me.

Little did I know that there was trouble. Behind the scenes, some checks were bouncing. Bank fees for “insufficient funds” were increasing.

Here it was my job to know what’s going on, to keep tabs on local government, but I was blind to what was happening to my own business.

Something was wrong, and I didn’t even know it.

Paper up for sale

It’s hard to say exactly when my relationship with my business partner began to fall apart. Maybe it was 2004, 2005, or 2006. I guess I was like a frog in a frying pan; I didn’t really grasp what was happening until it was too late.

Things got worse and worse, until finally she wouldn’t even speak to me. It was a miserable existence. The joy of being a newspaperman was almost sucked out of me.

I lobbied her to hand the whole paper over to me, but that didn’t work. I would have bought her out, but I didn’t have any money. The paper was just getting by. Barely. I was stuck. Things were dire.

At the time, I would have gladly handed the paper over to her just to get out of the situation, but she didn’t have the technical skills to put the paper out by herself. The idea of closing down the paper and just walking away from the nightmare was something I never considered.

Then, out of the blue I was approached by a potential buyer who would give each of us a chunk of change for the paper, thereby terminating the partnership. After the paper was sold, I would be hired on as the editor. It sounded wonderful. I would have a steady paycheck. I would still get to run the paper, but without the hassles of owning a business.

I was eager to close the deal, but there was always some sort of complication. Month after month dragged on, and nothing happened.

Desperate, I decided to let the cat out of the bag and list the paper for sale. My desire to sell the paper was now public knowledge.

An article titled “Stop the Press” appeared in the North Coast Journal, in which I said I wanted to sell it because it was time for a change. That was an understatement.

After that article came out, complete strangers were calling me up and telling me how sorry they were that I was selling the paper. They praised me for all my years of work. They wrote thank you cards and heartfelt notes. My response: I cried, then carried on.

In the first couple months, there was a flurry of interest in the paper. Locals and people from outside the county and even the state were inquiring about buying the McKinleyville Press.

There were a couple of potential buyers who were pretty serious about it. But then the economy started to crumble, and they were scared away.

Unfortunately for John Frederick, my real estate agent, I was the person that all potential buyers had to talk to regarding the nitty-gritty details of the newspaper and its finances.

Looking back, I think I was subconsciously trying to subvert the sale by scaring off potential buyers. The McKinleyville Press was my baby. I wanted to keep it, but not under those conditions.

There was one buyer who came along and offered to pay exactly what I was asking. There was only one problem – he was a dope grower. Did I want my paper to end up in the hands of a dope grower, who would probably end up closing it down anyway? No deal. There are more important things than money.

Next week: Gray whales, love, Italy and an appreciation for small businesses.

Jack Durham is editor and publisher of the McKinleyville Press.


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  1. Jack Durham said:

    Dope grower is a commonly used term for someone who grows weed. Even the folks I know who grow weed use the term. (I love that Tubes song “White Punks On Dope,” by I digress.)

    As for the grower who wanted to buy my paper, it’s possible that he would have done a great job. Maybe he would have turned it into the best dang weekly newspaper in America. Maybe. But maybe not.

    I suspect he would have ran it like the Humboldt Advocate. It would go gangbusters for awhile, then slowly fade away. That’s pure speculation on my part.

  2. Mitch said:

    Why would someone buy a paper from an editor just to shut it down? Wouldn’t the editor then be able to just start up again, using the additional funds received from the odd buyer?

    I can think of far better investments for the typical pot/dope dealer; a more traditional fertilizer would be a start.

  3. kevpod said:

    Agreed. And yet at the same time the McK Press is also the shizzle.

    These terms come and go, evolve and mutate. “Dope” is old-fashioned, like “balling” and “outasite.” Nobody calls it “boo” or “gage” any more either, except for comedic or nostalgic reasons.

    For a while TJ Doyle and I tried to propagate “Captain Glunk” as a term for pot, but for some strange reason it didn’t take.

  4. Mark Sailors said:

    Word History

    Date of Origin 19th c.
    Dope originated in the USA, where it was borrowed from Dutch doop ‘sauce’. This was a derivative of the verb doopen ‘dip’, which is related to English dip. It was at first used as a general colloquialism for any thick semi-liquid preparation, whether used as a food or, e.g., as a lubricant, but during the 19th century some specific strands began to emerge: notably ‘drug’, and in particular ‘opium’, and ‘varnish painted on the fabric of an aircraft’. The effects of the former led to its use in the sense ‘fool’, and to the coinage of the adjective dopey, first recorded in the 1890s. The sense ‘information’ dates from around 1900.

  5. Mark Sailors said:


    Word Origin & History

    1807, Amer.Eng., “sauce, gravy,” from Du. doop “thick dipping sauce.” Extension to “drug” is 1889, from practice of smoking semi-liquid opium preparation. Meaning “foolish, stupid person” is older (1851) and may have a sense of “thick-headed.” Sense of “inside information” (1901)

    Only when cannabis was lumped in with narcotics like heroin by the government did non-users start to refer to ALL drugs as dope.


    Richard J. Bonnie & Charles H. Whitebread, II


    Until the inclusion of marijuana in the Uniform Narcotic Drug Act in 1932 and the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act in 1937, there was no “national” public policy regarding the drug. However, as early as 1914 the New York City Sanitary Laws included cannabis in a prohibited drug list and in 1915 Utah passed the first state statute prohibiting sale or possession of the drug. By 1931 twenty-two states had enacted such legislation. In the succeeding section, we shall delve into the circumstances surrounding the passage of several of these early laws and the ensuing judicial acquiescence in the legislative value judgments concerning marijuana. We conclude that the legislative action and approval were essentially kneejerk responses uninformed by scientific study or public debate and colored instead by racial bias and sensationalistic myths.

    A. Initial State Legislation 1914-1931

    As indicated above, the Harrison Act, a regulatory measure in the garb of a taxing statute, left many gaps unfilled in the effort to prohibit illegal or nonmedical use of opiates and cocaine. Although Commissioner Anslinger of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics stated in 1932 that few states had responded to the Harrison Act,1 most states had in fact enacted or reenacted narcotics laws in the period from 1914 to 1931.2 In so doing, twenty-one states had also restricted the sale of marijuana as part of their general narcotics articles, one state had prohibited its use for any purpose, and four states had outlawed its cultivation.3 Our objective in this section is to determine why these states chose to include cannabis in their lists of prohibited drugs.

    The first consideration was the increasing public awareness of the narcotics problem. As noted above, the Harrison Act engendered a shift in public perception of the narcotics addict. With ever-increasing frequency and venom, he was portrayed in the public media as the criminal “dope fiend.” This hysteria, coupled with the actual increases in drug-related criminal conduct due to the closing of the clinics,4 was the basis for a good many of the post-Harrison Act narcotic statutes.5 Other forces such as lurid accounts in the media,6 publications of private narcotics associations 7 and the effective separation of the addict and his problems from the medical profession8 all pressed legislatures into action to deal more effectively with what was perceived as a growing narcotics problem.

    Despite the increasing public interest in the narcotics problem during this period, we can find no evidence of public concern for, or understanding of, marijuana, even in those states that banned it along with the opiates and cocaine. Observers in the middle and late 1930’s agreed that marijuana was at that time a very new phenomenon on the national scene.9 The perplexing question remains-why did some states include marijuana in their prohibitive legislation a decade before it achieved any notice whatsoever from the general public and the overwhelming majority of legislators?

    From a survey of contemporary newspaper and periodical commentary we have concluded that there were three major influences. The most prominent was racial prejudice. During this period, marijuana legislation was generally a regional phenomenon present in the southern and western states. Use of the drug was primarily limited to Mexican-Americans who were immigrating in increased numbers to those states. These movements were well noted in the press accounts of passage of marijuana legislation. A second factor was the assumption that marijuana, which was presumed to be an addictive drug, would be utilized as a substitute for narcotics and alcohol then prohibited by national policy. This factor was particularly significant in the New York law, the forerunner of nationwide anti-marijuana legislation. Finally, there is some evidence that coverage of the drug by the Geneva Conventions in 1925 was publicized in this country and may have had some influence.

  6. Mark Sailors said:

    I just saw Chong on “the Green Room with Paul Provensa, and Tommy didn’t really know much about pot. Now Joe Rogan on the other hand…

    Cheech and Chong, although regarded as “stoner” comedians, did bits about ALL drugs not just pot. They had plenty of Cocaine humor as well.

  7. Mark Sailors said:

    Dope, is heroin, not pot. Only people that do not smoke pot call pot dope.
    1. Dope

    People who do not do drugs call Marajuanna Dope.
    People who do Marajuanna call Heroin Dope.
    Word has also been used to describe how good somthing is.
    Don’t you be somkin’ dope! ( AKA Marajuanna )

    OMG, I smoke the green but I don’t do dope ( AKA Heroin )


    not weed but heroin. only dumbasses call weed dope.


    heroin, not crack, not powder, but heroin. not marijuana, not meth. but heroin. heroin is the only thing that dope could ever be. people who don’t know what dope is are people with very sheltered lives.
    I snort it, I can’t even think of how done my life will be once I start banging the dope.
    if you shoot dope, you are fucking retarded.


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