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Originally published Friday, December 29, 2006 at 12:00 AM

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Daily King County Journal to print final edition Jan. 21

The struggling King County Journal, Washington's eighth-largest newspaper, will publish its last edition Jan. 21, its new owner said Thursday...

Seattle Times staff reporter

The struggling King County Journal, Washington's eighth-largest newspaper, will publish its last edition Jan. 21, its new owner said Thursday.

That means for the first time in more than 30 years, there will be no daily based in the county's fast-growing suburbs.

Black Press of Victoria, B.C., which bought the Kent-based Journal and nine affiliated nondaily newspapers last month, informed employees of its decision to shut down the daily at a brief meeting in the newsroom Thursday afternoon.

"We looked at all kinds of alternatives, but we couldn't come up with a business model that would work to keep the daily alive," said Don Kendall, general manager of King County Publications, the Black subsidiary that runs the 10 papers. "I've been a publisher for 20 years. It's the most difficult thing I've ever had to do."

He said about 40 of King County Publications' 330 employees — mostly in the newsroom — will be laid off. Other news employees will be transferred to the nondaily papers, which soon will be expanded.

Black's decision didn't take anyone by surprise. When it bought the papers from Horvitz Newspapers in late November, Kendall indicated the Journal's days might be numbered, and that a decision would come within weeks.

The paper has been losing money and circulation for years.

History steeped in suburbia


1976: Longview Publishing buys Bellevue and Kirkland weeklies and merges them to create the daily Journal-American, based in Bellevue.

1978: Fournier Newspapers of Kent converts its nondaily newspapers in Renton, Kent and Auburn to dailies.

1982: Fournier sells its papers to Donrey Media Group of Jonesboro, Ark., which combines them to create the Valley Daily News.

1986: Longview Publishing sells Journal-American to Persis Media of Honolulu.

1989: Persis buys Valley Daily News from Donrey.

1994: Horvitz Newspapers buys Valley Daily News and Journal-American from Persis.

1996: Horvitz renames the papers the South County Journal and Eastside Journal.

2002: Horvitz consolidates the papers to form the King County Journal.

June 2006: Horvitz puts the Journal and affiliated nondaily newspapers up for sale.

November 2006: Black Press of Victoria, B.C., buys papers from Horvitz.

Dec. 28, 2006: Black Press announces King County Journal will stop publishing Jan. 21, 2007.

Still, the news hit some employees hard.

"I'm heartbroken," said columnist Mary Swift, who has spent 32 years with the Journal and its predecessor publications and soon will be out of work. "I'll miss the people I work with, and I'll miss the people in the community."

Kendall said laid-off workers will get severance pay. He declined to provide details, but reporter David Grant, a 10-year veteran of the paper who is among the departing, said it tops out at seven weeks' salary.

"It's a sad day for us, for readers and for the community," Grant said.

Former Publisher Peter Horvitz put his 10 King County papers on the market in June, saying his family-controlled company didn't have the resources to turn the Journal around.

When Black bought the chain, Kendall said the company really wanted Horvitz's seven community papers that are published twice a month — not the daily.

He said Thursday that six of those seven — the Redmond Reporter, Bellevue Reporter, Renton Reporter, Kent Reporter, Covington/Maple Valley Reporter and Auburn Reporter — will begin publishing twice a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays, starting Jan. 24.

The seventh, the Bothell/Kenmore Reporter, will become a weekly. All will be intensely local, Kendall said.

The King County Journal, in contrast, circulated in communities stretching from Kirkland to Enumclaw. "In some ways, it was difficult to serve an area that was that large with local news," Kendall said.

Kent Mayor Suzette Cooke sounded a similar theme. Reading the Journal is part of her morning routine, she said, and she will miss it.

"But I am one of those folks who is really into what is happening in my community, and my community is Kent," said Cooke, who has lived there since 1975. "I have missed the community spirit the paper used to have as it has grown into more of a regional paper."

The Journal traces its origins to weekly papers on the Eastside and in South King County that Horvitz and previous owners slowly consolidated.

"What Black is doing is going back to the local emphasis they had originally," said David Martens, a newspaper-industry consultant who lives in Anacortes.

He called Black "a fierce competitor."

In comments at a Bellevue Chamber of Commerce luncheon Dec. 13 — weeks after Black bought the Horvitz papers — Seattle Times Publisher Frank Blethen said his company was reviewing ways to enhance its service to the affluent Eastside, including the possibility of new weekly newspapers. The Times already publishes a zoned edition of the daily paper for the Eastside, and also owns nondaily papers in Issaquah, Newcastle and Sammamish.

Blethen said Thursday the review has been under way since last year, before Black came on the scene. The Times plans no immediate changes in response to the King County Journal's closure, he added.

But Blethen also called Black's entry into the local market "a wake-up call. ... This is a guy [Black Press CEO David Black] who's going to be very aggressive in trying to take advertising dollars away."

The publishers of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and The (Tacoma) News Tribune could not be reached for comment.

Black also acquired two weeklies, the Mercer Island Reporter and Snoqualmie Valley Record, from Horvitz. No changes are planned at those papers, Kendall said.

Privately held Black Press is no newcomer to Western Washington. Before acquiring the Horvitz papers, it already published 17 community newspapers in the region through its Sound Publishing subsidiary. It bought Little Nickel Classifieds of Lynnwood in September.

The company got its start in British Columbia, where it owns about 75 community papers. In the U.S., it bought the Honolulu Star-Bulletin in 2000 and the Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal earlier this year.

Eric Pryne: 206-464-2231 or epryne@seattletimes.com

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