How Bellingham Became a Three-Newsroom Town

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On weekends when I visit a hide-away on Lummi Island, my first stop is at the Islander general store. If I’m lucky and they’re not sold out, I can pick up a print copy of Cascadia Daily News. The less-than-year-old news source is available online seven days a week. Once a week there’s a printed version available for $1.50 at newsstands and retail locations.

It is a treat for weekenders like me to read about what people are doing in the state’s far Northwestern corner. Cascadia Daily’s executive editor is Ron Judd, a Western Washington University grad who spent three decades at the Seattle Times, where he was a former colleague. The resident staff of nine works out of a brick-and-mortar office in downtown Bellingham. The operation is totally owned and funded by fourth-generation Whatcom resident David Syre.

Thanks to reading a recent edition, I learned something of importance to island dwellers: The Whatcom Chief, the 60-year-old Lummi ferry, is about to be replaced. Cascadia headlined an August visit of U. S. Sen. Maria Cantwell to the island to tout a $25 million grant that will help pay for a new Lummi Island ferry.

The new vessel, likely five years away, will be a diesel-electric hybrid able to run solely on battery power on the 0.8-mile trip from Gooseberry Point to Lummi Island. It will have room for 34 vehicles, compared to the Whatcom Chief’s 20-vehicle capacity. At a press conference at the ferry dock, Cantwell lauded the project as an example of cooperation across multiple governments. She was joined by Lummi Chairman William Jones Jr., who praised the future ferry’s smaller carbon footprint benefiting the Tribe’s salmon catch and its clam and oyster harvests. 

The ferry story was just one of Cascadia’s significant reports that week. Included was a look at Western Washington University faculty salaries, an update on cleanup operations of the fuel spill off San Juan Island, and a story on the region’s primary turnout: 48 percent, contrasted to 41 percent statewide. The “Living” section featured multiple events ranging from the Bellingham Arts and Music Festival to a block party in Ferndale. The Sports & Rec pages covered a cross section of sporting events including the West Coast League championship (the Bells fell 5-0 to the Corvallis Knights) and the rigors of the ‘Hamster Endurance Run where runners could choose between six, 12, 24 or 32 loops of Lake Padden.

Cascadia Daily devoted two full pages to a special Citizens Agenda: offering readers a chance to pick the top five questions they wanted asked of candidates for the Nov. 8 election. In a September edition, the newspaper updated the Citizens Agenda, reporting that candidates will be queried – no surprise — on homelessness, abortion rights, elections, guns, and health care. 

Part of the newspaper’s charm are its opinion pages. Featured are guest commentaries and “The Hammer,” editor Judd’s irreverent swing at current events.  Recently he targeted the escalating cost of the Bellingham Post Point Project that’s adding anaerobic digesters to the city’s failing wastewater system. He reasoned the undertaking may have leaped into  “boondoggle” territory, writing, “At least one City Council member uttered the ’B’ word– the other one as in ‘billion’ — to describe the possible total cost. Welcome to the home of the $500 monthly flush tab.”

Cascadia Daily competes with the Bellingham Herald, a paper I also buy when I go North. The Herald formerly was owned by McClatchy, one of the last major family-run news publishers. But in 2020, McClatchy was acquired by Chatham Asset Management, a New Jersey-based hedge fund with a notorious reputation for laying off employees and shutting papers down. (When Chatham took over Postmedia, Canada’s largest newspaper chain, it laid off 1,600 employees and closed 30 newspapers.)

Another new outlet in the area is the Salish Current, an environmentally-focused website started by Amy Nelson and Mike Sato. All these outlets benefit from the significant number or retired newsies in the area.

Bellingham Herald Executive Editor Julie Shirley supervises a staff of six reporters out of offices located on the second floor of a 1926 building on State Street. Founded in 1890, the paper is a survivor that once fended off a 1904 takeover by the Puget Sound American, established by Seattle Times then-publisher Joseph Blethen.

Today the Herald relies heavily on police news and on pick-ups from other papers in the Chatham chain. The paper runs frequent reader polls, with contests like the one to pick the region’s “best poutine,” a Canadian dish of French fries, cheese curds, and gravy. Or a competition to choose “the best Chinese restaurant in Whatcom County” and another one to name “who makes the best Mac and Cheese in the county.”

One place where the Bellingham Herald bests competition is in publishing paid obituaries. The Cascadia Daily editions I picked up didn’t have any such notices, although the newspaper did have a half page of classified ads along with syndicated comics, puzzles, and “News of the Weird.”                                       

Having a vigorous rival often brings out the best in news coverage, just as it did in Seattle when the Seattle Times and Post-Intelligencer competed fiercely to deliver the news first. So it is to be hoped that the locally-owned young Cascadia Daily and the venerable Bellingham Herald will both profit from doing their utmost to serve their readers.

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Jean Godden wrote columns first for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and later for the Seattle Times. In 2003, she quit to run for Seattle City Council where she served 12 years. She now writes for Westside Seattle and has been a co-host on The Bridge, aired on community radio station KMGP. You can email tips and comments to Jean at jgodden@blarg.net.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Nice piece. Makes me wonder about the funder of this new enterprise – a media maven with enough $ to support it or a plan to make it self-supporting in the future, or just a believer in local journalism with contacts who provide content for little or no money?

  2. Thanks for the reminder, Mark. I do recall that the Lynden Tribune is indeed published in Whatcom County under local ownership. And, yes, that’s a plus for residents, having a source — in this case a weekly — that reports local news. Sadly many towns and even cities are news desserts.

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