A tribute to the Whitehorse Star websites, from recent to long ago

April 12, 2024

After 124 years in business, the Whitehorse Star will cease operations in May 2024.

As it stands, the Star is one of the last independently owned newspapers in Canada. Founded in 1900, it’s also one of the only newspapers owned by a woman.

The other major local news source in the territory is the Yukon News, operated by Black Press. As of earlier this year, Black Press is insolvent and has filed for creditor protection.

We have other locally-owned news media sources – Klondike Sun, L'Aurore Boreale, What’s Up Yukon and others – but none with the history and reputation of the Whitehorse Star.

Thus, the soon-to-be loss of this organization is significant for our territory.

Looking back over time

The current Whitehorse Star website was Mike’s and my creation. I also built a version prior on my own, before Mike joined me.

Due to this personal history, I have been feeling mournful about the impending disappearance of our invaluable local news source, not to mention a great sadness for those about to be unemployed.

With that in mind, I desired to put this tribute together to pay respect to what was and remains, the Whitehorse Star website.

But first, (2000)

My journey with the Star began in 2000 when I worked for a small tech start-up in Whitehorse called in 2000

At the time, the Whitehorse Star and Yukon News had rudimentary websites.

We had an agreement with both newspapers to take the stories from PDFs of their print editions and copy/paste the text and pictures to manually create individual stories on in 2000

As someone who had just graduated from a college program in online journalism and was desperate to get into the digital game, guess whose job it was, every day to manually do this copy/paste?

Yep, me!

Our business pitch was that we could greatly increase distribution of local news on the web, and combine it with video, audio streaming, business listings, events, sports and advertisements. would become the main online source for it all.

In hindsight, it wasn’t a great business model but we were young and wonderfully foolish. closed its doors later that year.

Whitehorse Star website re-build (2008)

By 2008, I had gained much more experience and digital skills having worked at marketing agencies and start-ups in BC and the Yukon.

The year prior I had left a great job to brazenly start my own web design and development business. Our kids were little and I had a dream. It was called Subvert Marketing Inc.

In July 2007, I started talking with the Star’s previous owner, Jackie Pierce about updating their website to become more modern and introduce paid subscriptions. At the time, the Star had a website that made use of frames and an aging Content Management System (CMS).

On the new website, Jackie and I envisioned there would be subscriber-only news content, user comments on stories, events, classifieds, supplements and a deep archives section. The archives were especially important to Jackie.

When Jackie agreed to work with me, I was both excited and terrified. Unbeknownst to her, I was in over my head web development skill-wise. Thankfully, the documentation and community from ExpressionEngine, the CMS on which I built the website, was detailed and very helpful.

In 2008, after months of work, we launched a new version of Here’s how it looked during that period of time.

Whitehorse Star website in 2012

I specifically remember the night before the launch in 2008 when I didn’t sleep, instead finding myself hand-bombing snippets of the Star’s archived stories into the new database. They were inputted as raw SQL files in blocks of 1,000 stories at a time.

This was the only reliable method I could find to extract stories from their previous website into the new version without the new database timing out and blowing up. That night, I brought over 30,000 stories.

Building and running a complex website like the Star was a learning experience for both myself and their team. I had never worked on a website that got so much traffic, and in the first few weeks, it crashed multiple times.

We had to keep scaling up the web servers to meet the growing number of people reading its pages, searching the archives and leaving comments on stories.

Once it was stable, that website worked like a charm for the next 5 years.

Whitehorse Star website re-build (2013)

By the time 2013 arrived, the world of web design and development was very different.

The previous version of the Star website wasn’t mobile-friendly. This is because there weren’t many people using smartphones when I built it. The first iPhone didn’t show up in the Yukon until 2010.

With Mike and I teamed up, we could do much more with the technology and user experience of the Whitehorse Star website.

We transitioned away from ExpressionEngine into a custom-built SaaS CMS that we had been using for other clients called Ibbit.

Whitehorse Star website in 2024

The Whitehorse Star website online today is functionally the same one we made more than 10 years ago. The size of their archives has grown significantly, with a huge wealth of stories published and searchable.

What’s next for the Whitehorse Star and its website?

Based on this recent story, it sounds like the Whitehorse Star may survive. Or maybe it won’t. The next few weeks and months will be interesting as we all watch how things unfold.

Personally, I’d like to see the Star stop printing papers and just go online. Move to a paid subscribers only model, with very few stories available for free. Possibly remove the advertising (as advertisers desire big numbers with as many views as possible) and instead rely on generated income.

The Star could run with a limited staff and adopt a lean start-up mindset. They could stabilize, experiment with new services and models, operate day-to-day and hopefully grow into something sustainable and profitable.

Those are just ideas though. Ideas are cheap and easy. Execution and consistency are what matters.

This is also not my business. I do though know what it's like to be at the end of a long journey as an organization, and mine was much, much shorter than theirs.

I don’t envy the position its current owners find themselves in.

To those about to lose their jobs, many of them long-term employees, I wish you the very best. You were part of something special and important at the Whitehorse Star.

To the family who owns the Star, thank you for the opportunity to be on your team. I am very proud of what we made together.