One year ago yesterday, we pushed a couple keys and popped a cork. Nothing has been the same since.
The Jan. 24, 2022, online launch of Cascadia Daily News was a leap into the unknown.
We’ll have a more formal marking of our one-year anniversary in March, when our print paper debuted last year. But the online anniversary this week was a chance for the newsroom to pause and take stock.
When that website blinked to life, the gravity of the moment struck a number of us in our downtown Bellingham newsroom.
Holy cow, we’ve created a newspaper!
Followed by: Oh my God, we’ve created a newspaper.
The first conveys excitement — launching a daily online and weekly print publication is a rare event in today’s media landscape, in which countless community news organizations, tragically, are shuttering, not opening, around America.
The second relayed the obligation — the ominous responsibility of keeping up with daily news, launching enterprising ideas, and becoming a very visible platform for matters of life and death, on a daily basis.
Cascadia Daily News began with a broad vision shared by a small group of founders, brought together more than 18 months ago by the publication’s owner, David Syre. His direction was broad and simple: Build a staff of journalists to fill a news void in the northwest corner of Washington state. Decide among yourselves — without fear, favor or, especially, pressure from ownership — how to fill a public need, in an era with democracy under threat, to serve as a community meeting place and watchdog.
He has lived up to that commitment, allowing our news organization not only to survive, but grow. We work hard, every day, to live up to ours. As might have been expected, we underestimated the entire situation, in ways both good and bad.
Just getting a news organization (it’s a more accurate term than “newspaper,” although we seek to replicate online the traditional role of a daily newspaper of years past) off the ground proved more complex than we imagined.
Similarly, the hard decisions about what news we cover, who covers it, and how it is distributed, are an ongoing challenge — is one that we accept as a reminder that, to survive, our publication must constantly evolve.
In a column posted here on our first day, I emphasized our desire to build a news org that focused more on context than clickbait.
Noting our broad mix of ages and experiences — counting freelance contributors, we’re more than 20 people, all local; our youngest full-time staffer is 23; I’m the oldest, clinging to the rocks of 59 — I pointed to the rare opportunity to draw a publication on a blank sheet of paper:
“We are informed, but not bound by, historical traditions in our trade,” I wrote. “Some of these we dust off, reembrace and redeploy, not simply because they are tradition but because they were proven effective, only to be swept away by corporate bean counters. Others we’ve happily consigned to the dustbin of news history, because they no longer work, and we’ve been granted the rare freedom to affix the toe tag.”
How has that gone? Twelve months in, we have a good start — a firm foundation to build upon. A long way to go. We are expanding our focus and sharpening our immediacy. Community support has been strong; we are grateful.
I’m pleased with the team atmosphere in CDN’s newsroom, and especially proud of the degree of passion I’ve seen our reporters, visual journalists and editors bring to their work.
I tried to hire journalists with a combination of empathy and pluck. I got lucky. We enjoy our work and have fun doing it, but take it seriously. On occasion, I’ve seen staff members, when assembling a story with life/death implications, shed a tear. They do their jobs and move on. But they care. I notice. I hope our community will come to notice, as well.
What have we learned?
For me, it’s been learning from mistakes, appreciating successes and managing expectations. Many potential readers have expressed their own extremely specific ideas about what a news publication should be, what sorts of stories it should report, and of course, which directions its opinion page should tilt. All eye-of-the-beholder stuff. I take it all under advisement and use my experience and best judgment.
From our staff, two interesting answers to the “lessons” question emerged this week from a veteran and talented young journalist.
Bellingham newcomer Frank Catalano, an experienced Northwest media voice I call our “super contributor” as a business and work columnist, said he’s been impressed with his adopted city’s tightness.
“Nothing is too local or too small,” said Catalano, who deals with our changing community face every day while writing about openings, closings and trends. “People are interested in both what’s changing and why it’s changing, and don’t have a lot of solid places to turn for answers. Even subreddits and Facebook groups seem to seek out information sources that ‘do the work’ — verify details and confirm facts.”
Another staffer, the multi-talented reporter/producer/editor Audra Anderson, 24, views her work here as a career, and personal, game-changer.
“I excitedly tell anyone who asks (or will listen) that this job has renewed my faith in the journalism industry,” said Anderson, a 2020 Western Washington University graduate. “In a landscape of advertiser-driven articles, layoffs, clickbait and poor working conditions, CDN is a beacon of light.”
She continued: “Our newsroom here is vibrant and passionate, tenacious and persistent. I get the feeling here that I yearned for as a journalism student: a sense of purpose. Even in moments of frustration, I always find something that reignites me.”
That’s the kind of passion that’s allowed us to push forward to a one-year anniversary party. And, I hope, will keep the candles burning for many more. Thanks for coming along with us.
Ron Judd’s column appears on Wednesdays; email@example.com; @roncjudd.