By Shawn Chitnis

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – The Columbine Courier published its final print edition on Thursday after covering the southern part of the county for nearly three decades because its parent company did not think it could remain viable without making a profit.

“It had been a struggle to really make a profit with the newspaper,” said Michael Hicks, the editor of Evergreen Newspapers, which owns multiple publications including the Courier.

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Unlike the other publications, the Courier was always a free paper. It was dependent on advertising revenue and while it was closer to becoming profitable, the owner of the publication located outside of Colorado decided to stop production at the end of 2018. Staff had known for a couple months they would stop production in the final week of this month.

“It was a tough time for all of us,” Hicks said. “It was very difficult, we’ve known for six weeks to two months that Dec. 26 was going to be the last time we were going to walk in and produce the Columbine Courier newspaper.”

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Hicks spent seven years as the sports editor for the company and became the editor a little more than a year ago. In the spring of 2017, he said discussions about the paper’s future were already happening with their ownership. The past several weeks have been a sad time for the newsroom, working to make sure their final edition was a combination of looking back on their history while still informing the community of new stories in their neighborhoods.

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“We had all put a lot of effort into that newspaper,” he said. “Kind of bittersweet. I think we put a good amount of effort into it, a good amount of thought into what we were going to produce for that last paper.”

A disappointing event that forced them to reflect on the run of 29 years covering local news a level that is often hard to find across the country. Stories ranged from an increase in crime to growing development around the county, the desire to move to Colorado over the past several years also affected the people living where the Courier was read weekly.

“There’s a lot of people down there who now won’t have a reliable news source in the community because we’re no longer there,” Hicks said. “We were their paper, that’s what it is really represented.”

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Hicks worries about where they will go for the same level of coverage each week. He hopes his newsroom can keep covering that community in another paper they publish each week, the Canyon Courier. The company has a staff of 14 working on the various publications. They lost one advertising representative because of the paper stopping production.

“We’re a business, we’re providing a product to them,” he said. “It shouldn’t hit them too hard in the back pocket.”

While it is unclear if a subscription fee could have saved the paper and if their readers would have accepted the cost after enjoying the paper for free, Hicks knows that the expense of accessing journalism is one that readers and viewers must now be more prepared for than in previous years. Hicks is encouraging their current audience to try their other papers to see some of the same stories they’ve enjoyed in the Columbine Courier.

“We hope that we can get that and provide them with the news that they deserve,” he said.

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A memorable day for this paper and even the staff that came well after it will be the shooting at Columbine High School. The paper had already put together the edition set for publication that week when the shooting happened. The newsroom at the time scrambled to create a four-page special.

“It’s a sad time for us here,” said Hicks. “We put a lot of time and effort into this newspaper over the last 29 years.”

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The final edition of the paper has already been published but the news affecting its audience has not stopped. Hicks hopes he can still report on the people they’ve profiled for years because he knows their stories will only continue with or without the Courier.

“Events are going to happen in that area, no matter who is there to cover it and we hope it is us that will be there to cover it,” Hick said.

Shawn Chitnis reports weeknights for CBS4 News at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. Email him story ideas at smchitnis@cbs.com and connect with him on Twitter or Facebook.

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