The Martinez News-Gazette, in print for 161 years, is stopping the presses on its print edition for good this weekend, ending what may be the longest run for a newspaper anywhere in California. Its last edition will be on December 29.
The community newspaper serving the county seat of Contra Costa County — a town of about 40,000 people — began printing in 1858, five years before the San Francisco Examiner and seven years before the founding of the San Francisco Chronicle. In recent years it cut back from publishing five times a week to just twice a week, and like thousands of other local papers around the nation it's now facing an uncertain future as — maybe — an online-only publication.
"I think we are going to lose some connection to our community," says Mayor Rob Schroder, speaking to the Chronicle. "Journalism ties us all together a little bit."
In the News-Gazette's first year, it endorsed Abraham Lincoln for president — across the Bay it should be noted that the Examiner was launched as a pro-Democratic Party paper that favored slavery, and the Confederacy. Over the century and a half since it has provided hyper-local news and notices about the community, as well as national and international stories via wire services.
As small-town newspapers disappear and become economically unsustainable, many have suggested that their loss has an impact on the local social fabric. "There’s not really a replacement institution emerging,” says UC Berkeley Journalism School Dean Edward Wasserman, speaking to the Chronicle. “It’s not the same thing as having a paper that chronicles a shared reality for a given community."
The papers' editors are taking a survey about what the community might want to see in an online-only paper, but editor Rick Jones doesn't sound confident about the future. He tells the Chronicle that the owners of the paper haven't responded to his questions about what may come next after the final print edition.
But moving online comes with its own complications — the News-Gazette website has a notice on its front page that the site's database was lost last January and the company is still in the process of rebuilding the online archive.
Recent years have seen the consolidation of multiple local newspapers, and the disappearance of others. The San Francisco Bay Guardian folded in 2014, SF Weekly and the Examiner now operate out of a shared office under the same ownership, and the Oakland Tribune and Marin Independent Journal both became part of the San Jose Mercury News-centered Bay Area News Group. In 2016, the Tribune was rolled up into a single publication with the Contra Costa Times, Hayward Daily Review and the Fremont Argus as The East Bay Times.