This 140-year-old California weekly rents out its building on Airbnb

The extra income helps supplement The Ferndale Enterprise, but the paper's publisher didn't even consider it until a costly First Amendment fight with the fair board.

The Ferndale Enterprise sits on the main street of a small town filled with Victorian houses near California’s redwood forests. The 140-year-old weekly has had many homes in its lifetime, but this is its second stop at 207 Francis St. The Enterprise’s second owner lived and worked here 120 years ago.

A more recent first though, is that you can stay there, too.

Here’s how the listing reads on Airbnb:

Located behind the office of California's smallest weekly newspaper on Ferndale's historic Main St, the 7-room private quarters in a historic Victorian (house is on the National Historic Register, along with Main St., Ferndale) sleeps 4, has a cozy pub and offers a front-row porch to watch the parades pass you by! Prime location! Just steps away from Ferndale’s many restaurants, bars, shops and grocery store. Great hiking nearby. The redwoods are 30 mins away; local beach a 10-minute drive.

Caroline Titus is the Airbnb superhost, and the publisher, owner and staff of the Enterprise, where she’s worked since 1995. She’s also the toilet scrubber and sheet changer for the Airbnb.

Titus has been a journalist since high school. She became an Airbnb host after a long legal battle with the county’s fair association.

Screenshot, Instagram

Here’s the very short version of what happened: Titus’ husband, Stuart Titus, was fired from his job as the fair association's general manager in 2013 after 22 years. The couple sued, alleging that he lost his job because his employers weren’t happy with his wife’s coverage of the town, including the story of a previous mayor’s DUI. Caroline Titus covered the story, the association tried to subpoena her gynecological records, claiming she’d had an affair and that affected her husband’s performance at work. In 2016, the couple received a $150,000 settlement from the association and Caroline Titus won freedom of information awards from SPJ Norcal, the California News Publishers Association and a Free Speech and Open Government Award from the First Amendment Coalition.

Here’s how FAC sums it all up:

“This one-woman newsroom has carried on an 18-month battle with the Humboldt County Fair Association over disclosure of financial records. Even before the records dispute, her husband, Stuart Titus, the association’s general manager, faced mounting pressure from the Fair Board to suppress the Enterprise’s coverage–a demand he refused, costing him his job.”

This leads us back to that Airbnb.

In 2014, after her husband lost his job and health insurance and with two of three kids in college, the couple sold their home and moved into the back of Victorian that housed The Ferndale Enterprise. In 2015, Titus started renting the living quarters out on Airbnb, touting the unique location and the old-timey newspaper charm.

The couple converted a 150-square-foot laundry room into a separate space where they stay when guests arrive. Those guests get their names printed under the masthead of the weekly, which comes out on Thursdays, and, if they’re interested, a sense of what it’s like to be a journalist these days.

“We’ve had a lot of First Amendment driveway discussions,” Titus said, “and conversations about what is going on nationally. Our story resonates now because we’ve been the enemy of the people for far longer than Jim Acosta and Don Lemon.”

The Enterprise joined more than 400 newspapers last week that published editorials on press freedom. Titus’ advice to other journalists: Toughen up.

“All small newspaper editors have been doing this for a long time and have had to deal with all sorts of ‘enemy of the people,’ all in a fishbowl in very small markets.”

You gotta keep at it, she said. And these days, you gotta get creative.

No one is knocking on her door asking to buy the weekly, but Titus feels like she has an obligation to keep going. The newsroom building’s Airbnb, and a converted barn behind it, offer supplemental income, Titus said, “in a time of declining advertising, declining everything.”

Screenshot, Instagram

The Enterprise isn’t the only newsroom that’s getting creative about funding. The Seattle Times has turned to community and national foundations and raised more than $4 million to cover education, transportation and homelessness. And as employees at the Los Angeles Times’ Community Newspapers face paying for costly parking while on the job, the Times’ Guild held a bake sale to support them and launched a GoFundMe.

“Newspapers all over the nation are struggling, and I think that a lot of people are doing extra things in this time and age to keep the presses going,” Titus said. “Whether it’s this situation or other situations, people should be very thankful that in our democracy, we have freedom of the press and journalists willing to work this hard and stay the course.”

In Ferndale, the extra work is also, surprisingly, a really positive experience for Titus. She gets to share her town with visitors. The $175-a-night rental gets great reviews. And she faces no trolls and no threats for this work.

“It’s a hell of a lot easier to clean toilets and make some beds up and host people than it is to put out a weekly newspaper,” she said.

But, for now, doing one means she gets to keep doing the other.

The Ferndale Enterprise (submitted photo)

 

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