Gulfport’s Gabber will return to publishing community news on its website, from City Hall meetings to missing goats, possibly as soon as this week.
Before pausing operations in March, the free newspaper founded in 1968 circulated around 10,000 copies each Thursday via street boxes and stacks placed on restaurant counters. Then came the coronavirus and the collapse of the paper’s advertising business.
“We literally came in one week as it was unfolding and it was like a tomb in the office, it was just so quiet,” said publisher Deb Reichart. “We made a decision we were going to put everything on hold. I think some people thought we were closing for good and that was never the case.”
Deb Reichart, who purchased the paper with then-husband Ken Reichart in 1992, said they had been considering selling the Gabber even before the coronavirus hit. When former Gabber reporter Cathy Salustri approached her and Ken last month, the timing was right.
“After 30 years, you start to run out of ideas,” Deb Reichart said. “Talking to Cathy, she had such a fresh approach for the future that we thought, ‘oh, this is going to be the best thing for the paper.’ It wasn’t the plan, but with the virus we said let’s go with it.”
Salustri, a freelance writer and former Creative Loafing editor, is under contract to purchase the Gabber in a deal expected to close in June. Until then, Salustri is working as a volunteer alongside the Reicharts to get the paper publishing again.
Part of that work is being paid for by a Help Save the Gabber Indiegogo fundraising campaign that has so far raised around $3,800.
Deb Reichert and Salustri said all money raised by that Indiegogo campaign will go toward paying journalists and other expenses directly related to publishing the Gabber, and that those funds are completely separate from any financing Salustri is using to buy the paper.
“Even if the deal doesn’t happen, and you never know until the ink dries," Salustri said, "all of that money will go to them to keep the Gabber running.”
Salustri said she’s not sure when the Gabber will be able to bring back a paper version – “It could be a month, or it could be six or eight months, we just don’t know yet” – but that bringing it back is definitely part of her plan. First, she said, they’ll begin publishing more news online.
She said that former Creative Loafing creative director Joey Neill, who was laid off from that weekly paper along with most of its staff in March, will be joining the Gabber as its designer.
Already facing a tough financial outlook, print media across the country has been decimated by the pandemic. As budgets shrank, stores shuttered and events were canceled, there was little to advertise in newspapers and less money to do it with. Salustri said she’s hopeful the Gabber will bounce back financially.
“My CPA has looked at the deal, we’ve looked at the books going back years. I think the Gabber is a viable business," Salustri said. "All journalism, no matter the size, whether it’s the New York Times, or the Gabber, it’s all important.”
Deb Reichart said that having to stop publishing the Gabber was a reminder of its value.
“I had people calling in tears,” she said. “It is such a staple in the community. They looked to it for that small town, homey feeling.”
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