A Seattle Weekly driver delivers the paper one last time
‘It’s kind of like a death in the family in a way.’
After 11 years of delivering the Seattle Weekly, Doug Latta knows where the public bathrooms are. He knows the baristas on his route (“She started about a year ago”), the Fremont cobbler who would sometimes fix his shoes for free and the window washer who was diagnosed with cancer. He knows the less-than-legal parking spaces where he can leave his car for a few minutes as he drops the papers in one of the red newspaper boxes that dot the city’s sidewalks.
But Monday brought news that this week’s issue of the Weekly would be the last, at least in print, and this morning Latta is saying goodbye. Not to the staff of the paper, whom he doesn’t know at all, but to his delivery route, which begins near the Fremont bridge and winds toward the Ballard Locks. It’s an isolated job — he sees the other drivers only briefly in the morning, at their Georgetown pickup point — so there’s no one or nothing else to bid farewell. “It’s just the people who I meet on the route,” he said.
The Weekly, we’re told, will live on in digital form, on the internet. But its three remaining writers have been laid off, and the stories that will be posted under its banner will be a mix of freelance pieces, contributions and cross-posts. What staff remains will stand watch over the website as it slouches forward, picking up bits of news from Sound Publishing’s surviving suburban newspapers.
Copies of the last print edition of the Seattle Weekly are loaded in Doug Latta's car for the final delivery.
The paper’s death was no surprise. It had been on weak footing at least since Sound Publishing purchased it in 2013, said company President and CEO Josh O’Connor. A last-gasp staff slash in 2017 was to little effect.
There were no tears Wednesday morning, said Latta, as the drivers met one more time. “It probably hasn’t hit me totally, until the rent’s due,” he said. As a general rule, he added, “my melancholy hits me later.”
Latta is a vendor of the Weekly — he does his own taxes and pays for his own gas — as he has been since he answered an ad looking for delivery drivers in 2008. His business — servicing break-room coffee machines — went belly up after the financial crash of 2008, so he pieced together driving jobs. When he’s not dropping papers, he drives a black SUV as a passenger shuttle for Transwest Seattle.
Doug Latta on his final delivery of the Seattle Weekly.
Latta makes about 170 drops between Ballard, Fremont and, a recent addition, West Seattle. He covers about 70 miles in his 2000 Subaru, which he bought last year for $900. Each stand or store gets between 15 and 40 papers; He’s memorized which gets what. At $1.75 a drop, Latta pulls in about $300 each Wednesday — albeit before taxes and mileage.
He’s not sure how he’ll fill that void, he said. Amazon delivery, maybe. Definitely not Uber. But nothing is not an option.
And then there are the boxes, red with Seattle Weekly scrawled across the side, some plastic, some metal. Their placement is only lightly regulated by the city. Unlike some places, Seattle doesn’t require permits to place newsstands, a policy that, according to city code, enables “the public to acquire a wide variety of publications with a diversity of news, information, ideas, and opinions, at convenient locations in public places.”
That diversity, however, has dwindled. The boxes that remain are stained with sidewalk grime and have increasingly chameleoned into the background. Several in a line of boxes outside the Ballard post office sit empty; the papers in the others seem too small for the size of their boxes.
The Weekly has 30 days to clear theirs away or turn them over to another publication; otherwise, the city will impound them. City Arts magazine faced a similar predicament after it folded last year. Its 100 boxes went to an organization called Unified Outreach, which is currently developing a publication, said Andy Fife, the magazine’s former publisher.
When the Seattle Post-Intelligencer stopped its print publication, local sheet metal students repurposed the boxes to be drop-off bins for old eyeglasses, cellphones and hearing aids.
Even as they are used by the city’s publications, the boxes have been used as storage bins for all manner of things. Latta said he’s found backpacks, coats, a record, journals, an avocado and, yes, needles. If it looks like someone might return for an item — like a blanket — “I never throw the stuff away,” Latta said.
Jay Kraus, Sound Publishing’s circulation manager, promised the boxes will not be simply left behind. “I’ve come up with a list of all of our newspaper racks and shared that with various newspaper publishers around town,” he said. “We’re going to give them away with the condition that they rebrand them within two weeks.”
Publications about marijuana, real estate or the outdoors may take the place of the Weekly, which once routinely topped 100 pages. A magazine called Pet Connection has taken a particular interest, Kraus said.
Kraus said he thinks he can give them all away. If not, his team will pick them up and toss them out. And that will be the end of the red boxes with the yellow and white lettering.
“It’s kind of like a death in the family in a way,” Kraus said.