The March 31 edition of The Weekly Calistogan included a review of the All-Napa County High School Football Team, a preview of the upcoming Oyster Bar at the Calistoga Depot, a lengthy poem titled “Memories of the Old Kitchen” and a story titled “Snakes of India”.

These last two offerings were part of a reproduction of the front page of the December 26, 1877 newspaper – the first printed edition of the Independent Calistogian, as it was originally called, honored in the final printed edition of The Weekly Calistogan.

After more than 150 years off the press, the Calistogan has joined hundreds of other small newspapers that now exist only on the Internet.

“It makes me sad,” Pat Hampton said. “I worked there for 10 years. I mean, I absolutely loved this diary and I loved its story. But the newspaper is only as good as the people who own it.

Hampton has a complicated relationship with The Weekly Calistogan. She was its editor for a decade, split into two terms, mostly in the 1990s. And since 2002, she’s been its main competitor as publisher of the Calistoga Tribune, a weekly with about 875 subscribers.

Hampton hopes the Tribune — which she is creating, with publisher Kim Beltran, in a small suite, barely visible from the street, across an alley from the Calistoga Post Office — isn’t next in line. leave. She is 72 years old. She survived cancer and tamed Parkinson’s disease, and she can’t publish a diary forever.

Sharon Stensaas is in a similar position. Stensaas, 73, founded the free weekly Yountville Sun in 1998, just months after she and her husband moved to the small Napa Valley town, which at the time was just beginning its emergence as a luxury destination.

“I call him my baby,” Stensaas said of The Sun. “Well, the baby is 24 now, and he needs to move in with someone else. I don’t want to send him off with a stranger, but if I have to, I have to.

It’s a precarious time for North Bay’s smaller newspapers. The Windsor Times, Cloverdale Reveille, Sonoma West Times & News, Russian River Times, Clearlake Observer American, and Middletown Times Star, among others, have either gone out of print or gone out of business altogether over the past two decades.

The Healdsburg Tribune, which has printed since 1888 (first as the Sonoma County Tribune), recently announced it would also go online-only – before the Weeklys publishing group stepped in at the last moment to prevent its ink and paper disappearance.

This trend is playing out across the country.

Between 1996 and 2015, the Brookings Institute counted 296 newspaper outlets across the country. And it only got worse during the pandemic. Between March 2020 and August 2021, according to the Poynter Institute, 85 local newsrooms were permanently closed.

Attention has tended to focus on larger shutdowns, such as the Rocky Mountain News in 2009, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (which went out of print the same year but remained online), and the Tampa Tribune in 2016. These were traumatic events in major media markets. But the deeper problem could be the disappearance of smaller publications.

And it’s not just the views of journalists who have a stake in the outcome.

In 2018, Brookings — a nonprofit public policy organization — analyzed municipal bond rates in communities that lost their local newspapers. The researchers found that in the first three years after a shutdown, the city’s borrowing costs increased by 5 to 11 points, depending on the type of bond issued. On average, municipalities suddenly without local coverage paid an additional $650,000 per bond issue.

“Overall, our results indicate that local newspapers are holding their governments accountable, keeping municipal borrowing costs low and ultimately saving local taxpayers money,” the Brookings authors wrote. .

But the realities of modern news present an uphill battle for small publications. Many consumers these days are turning to larger websites or news aggregators, much like advertisers, wiping out a stream of cash that smaller publishers haven’t found a way to replace.

Of the 3,143 US counties, about 2,000 no longer have a daily newspaper and 200 have no local newspaper, according to an analysis by researchers at the University of North Carolina.

“Residents of these new deserts tend to be older, poorer, and less educated than the general population,” they wrote.

No corner of Wine Country could accurately be called a news wasteland. Sonoma, Napa, Mendocino and Lake counties all have daily newspapers. (Or thereabouts — the Lake County Record-Bee prints five days a week, the Ukiah Daily Journal six.) But no one covers the tedious and vital mechanics of hyperlocal government like a city-based newsroom.