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Rob Curley: After almost 30 years, we’re bringing back Spokane’s evening newspaper, The Chronicle

Sen. John F. Kennedy, Democratic nominee for president, looks at a Spokane Daily Chronicle on Sept. 6, 1960, during his campaign visit to Spokane.  (Spokesman-Review archives)

If you’re really looking for them, you can still capture a glimpse of old newspaper delivery tubes at the end of some driveways that say “The Spokane Daily Chronicle” along their side. Or if you happen to be the editor of The Spokesman-Review who gets asked to speak at lots of events across the area, you probably hear a couple of times a month some variation of “The Review is fine, but we were always more of a Chronicle family.”

Or maybe you’re one of those newspaper nerds who loves to talk with folks about the history of local community papers … and you still can’t believe how many people tell you they once delivered The Chronicle back when they were kids.

The thing most of these have in common is the fondness you often hear in people’s voices as they reminisce about Spokane’s long-gone afternoon newspaper. Those who religiously read The Chronicle sure seemed to love The Chronicle.

The Spokane Daily Chronicle stopped publishing in the summer of 1992, but it was a shadow of its former self by that time – being produced by a combined newsroom with its younger sibling, The Spokesman-Review. That sort of unholy partnership would have been unthinkable just a few decades earlier. Though the two newspapers were both owned by the Cowles family since 1897, they couldn’t have been more different.

Or more competitive.

It wasn’t just that one newspaper was delivered in the morning and the other hit your porch just before you got home from work. The differences were deeper than that. The Chronicle ran more local photos, was great at breaking news while not being afraid of longer stories that dove into the “how and why” of a complicated issue … and it was decidedly more liberal than The Spokesman-Review.

But it really loved to scoop The Spokesman-Review. Even if some of amount trickery was involved.

When The Spokesman-Review’s newsroom was being renovated about five years ago, a new conference room was created specifically for the daily news meetings — a place where the newspaper’s editors could gather to discuss how stories might be told and decide which ones would make the next day’s front page.

That room is called The Chronicle Room. It’s filled with memorabilia from that paper, a plate from the newspaper’s final press run, as well as photos of The Chronicle’s newsroom through several eras. It even has a re-creation of one of the windows from the old Chronicle building, back when it was still the home of Spokane’s spunky evening paper.

It all makes you wonder what it might be like if the Spokane Daily Chronicle could return today.

Well, in about a month, we won’t need to wonder.

Sometime during the late afternoon of July 12, Spokesman-Review subscribers who have activated their e-edition accounts will notice that a new newspaper has been delivered to them digitally — the first new edition of The Chronicle in almost 30 years.

You might be wondering why do this now? And why only publish it digitally? Well, a couple of major things are at play here.

As advertising has diminished in newspapers across the nation – due in large part to major newspaper marketers like Sears, Toys R Us, Sports Authority, and too many others to mention, going out of business – the cost of producing a daily paper has largely shifted to subscribers.

In most cases, the larger subscription costs still haven’t covered the loss of the huge advertising revenue that was what really paid for newspapers.

Over the last few years, including here in Spokane and in Tacoma, many newspapers stopped printing seven days a week to help bridge some of those losses. Here in Washington, The Spokesman-Review and News Tribune no longer print Saturday editions. The Tampa Bay Times and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette only print newspapers twice a week, while the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette only prints once weekly. The Oregonian only has home delivery of its print edition four days a week.

Newspapers that once offered home delivery over large geographical regions for decades, if not close to a century, began to dramatically decrease just how far they would travel in order to put a local paper on someone’s driveway each morning.

With these changes, newspapers began to focus more and more on their e-editions, which are digital replicas of each day’s paper that can be accessed on phones and tablets via special apps or on desktop computers and laptops through a web browser. And because these digital versions aren’t limited by page counts, several news organizations began adding “extra pages” to them as a bonus for accessing their papers in this fashion. Many newspapers that do this fill these “extra pages” with syndicated content from wire services.

A lot of newspapers owned by larger chains that do this include the exact same pages in their e-editions in every city where they publish a newspaper. Nothing is changed. There typically will be no regional content or anything that differentiates what subscribers might read all across the country.

Here at The Spokesman-Review, we’ve wanted to add “extra pages” and do other cool things with our e-editions, as well … and for all of the same reasons outlined above. It’s just that we really didn’t want to do it the same way others were doing it. Or even how they were thinking about it.

We wanted it to be more meaningful to those who live in Spokane and support our newsroom’s local journalism through their subscriptions. Plus, we had a few tricks up our sleeves that we hadn’t seen others do in their expanded e-editions.

That’s when it hit us: We should bring back the Spokane Daily Chronicle.

Oh, it’s a crazy idea. We all know that. But that didn’t mean it wasn’t at least an interesting idea. Though, admittedly, a crazy idea.

Instead of adding just a bunch of largely irrelevant wire stories and almost unreadable stock pages to our morning newspaper’s digital replica, maybe we could use the extra pages in our e-edition in the afternoon instead … and then fill those digital pages with lots of local breaking news, great stories other newspapers from across Washington and Idaho, a full page of comics that are completely different than what appear in The Spokesman-Review each morning – including many of our readers’ old favorites – as well as special puzzles that you can actually work directly on your phone, tablet or computer.

It’s because of those new puzzles that will soon run in the resurrected Chronicle that we’re announcing all of this right now. In today’s edition of The Spokesman-Review is a special section filled with puzzles. Included in that section is a sneak peek of the puzzles that will soon hit your email box each weekday via The Chronicle e-Edition.

We’re going to be talking a whole lot more about the return of The Chronicle over the next few weeks. We have stories coming that dig into the beloved afternoon newspaper’s past and its role in our community’s history. We have lots of little surprises planned that will lead to the return of The Chronicle later in July.

As we worked on what a modern digital version of an afternoon newspaper might be like, we met with numerous former editors and reporters from the Spokane Daily Chronicle. We kept tweaking and adding to it until we had something that the paper’s original journalists said invoked the spirit of what the newspaper might be like if it were around today.

So, if you were one of those “Chronicle families,” your favorite local newspaper is coming back to Spokane. Even if only digitally. The best part of all of this might be for those of us who never got to experience the joy of reading a local evening newspaper at the end of our day.

Coming home after work and relaxing by reading a local newspaper sounds so much better than scrolling through social-media to see what may, or may not, be actual news — let alone the stress of watching people yell at each other on the cable news networks.

July 12 can’t come soon enough.

Long live The Chronicle.

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