Pilot publishes for 40 year

With this edition, the Petersburg Pilot turns 40 years old.

Wrangell publisher Jamie Bryson brought this publication into being on February 8, 1974. The Pilot’s predecessor, Petersburg Press folded in January and Bryson stepped up to the plate to make sure Petersburg continued to have a newspaper.

He had the equipment and staff in Wrangell to produce the paper and many volunteers and staff member Jean Ellis in Petersburg to write stories, columns and ads. Most important to the operation was Bryson’s airplane, which enabled him to fly back and forth between Wrangell and Petersburg.

Under the headline, “The Pilot ‘Born’ Today — If you read this, we made it!” Bryson heralded the arrival of this newspaper. Bryson said, “We will strive to make your newspaper bright, newsy, entertaining and a responsible observer of the public affairs of this community.”

Bryson’s publication was supported by both readers and advertisers, as it still is today.

Unfortunately producing two newspapers every week wore Bryson down.

On March 5, 1975 in a page one story headlined: “This is the last Pilot,” Bryson explained, “We have stretched ourselves between Wrangell and Petersburg to do the job we have done for you. Transportation and weather problems have been expensive and vexing. It takes a professional staff to put out a good small town newspaper. Bad small town newspapers soon go broke. We have not gone broke. We’re just worn down.”

Approximately a month later, Bryson sold the Pilot assets to former Ketchikan Daily News advertising manager Von Braschler who published his first edition on April 9, 1975. Braschler published the paper for about 16 months before he sold it to this writer in 1976.

The severely undercapitalized venture struggled for another year with only a single part-time employee on the payroll. The only things keeping us in business was that both fishing and timber were thriving, and Petersburg advertisers often paid their bills before the 10th of the month.

At 23 years old, I was the youngest publisher in the state and was financially in too deep to bail out. Debt has a way of keeping one focused on the task at hand.

Another reason why we are still around is because in 1977 I married my true love who joined me in Petersburg with a fresh nursing diploma that brought us a second income from Petersburg General Hospital.

With that shaky beginning we now are able to employ a staff of 9 full-timers and produce newspapers that in 2013 earned us the honor of being named the best weekly newspaper in Alaska.

We’re proud of our staff and appreciative of our readers, advertisers and retail customers that support our businesses.

We’ll be celebrating our birthday throughout this year with an open house, a special historic print edition and regular stories and photos from our archives.

Again, thanks to this community, which has made our success possible.


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