It was probably 40 years ago but feels no more than 38.
A dozen of us punks sat on stools in a dim room with buzzy tube lighting in the smelly bowels of Haggard Hall, at Western Washington University. Up front, leaning over an over-varnished lectern, a giant of Whatcom County journalism was impressing upon first-year journalism students what this news business was all about.
“Your lede,” said the late Dick Beardsley, longtime city editor at a once-robust Bellingham daily newspaper, “should be the essence of the story.”
He was describing the first lines of any written news piece — an opening stanza that either slithers into a reader’s consciousness like the best brain-worm jingle, or sends the poor soul straight to the comics page for refuge.
I never forgot it. In fact, I’ve come to see it over the subsequent decades in journalism as a brilliant metaphor for effective execution of the craft itself.
The essence of the story.
It’s too often missing from news coverage around the globe of late, and it has become as rare here in our Upper Left Corner as a restaurant kitchen that stays open past 8:30 p.m.
Essence is not bare facts, canned graphics, nor syndicated bloviation. It is the opposite of a clickbait headline (“This Thing Might Kill You!”) and the cut/paste duplicity of news “aggregation.” It is inquiry, comprehension, understanding and, when all else fails, provocation.
Essence is context, and context is progress.
This is our aim at the Cascadia Daily News, a true American rarity in the current political and economic climate — a newspaper drawn on a blank sheet here in the navel of the Salish Sea.
We are a locally owned and produced publication coming to you with technology both new- and old-fangled, whatever fangled means. You are looking at the daily online version; a weekly print copy and other digital versions will follow not far behind.
We are informed, but not bound by, historical traditions in our trade. 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.
We are a small staff of less than a dozen — a blend of diehard veterans and undaunted youngsters, most working their first or second jobs.
We hold some truths to be self-evident, and we share these with a passion that transcends generations: We give a damn about the place we live; the people, creatures, trees, fungi and shorelines within it. And we believe all of it is doomed to a less-prosperous future without a booster shot of healthy dialogue and civic engagement made possible by insightful journalism.
That’s all lofty, yes, but the windmill-tilting sort of comes with the job. Sorry, and not.
That last line sort of defines my own life and career path. I’m a multi-generational Evergreen stater, raised in the 60s and 70s in the then-cow-town of Duvall in east King County.
I’m the grandson of a Methodist pastor, the son of a city clerk and lifelong Boeing machinist. After absconding from Western with a degree in history and journalism in the mid-80s, I filled print pages in Anacortes, Bremerton, and then for 33 years (the last 20 while living in Bellingham), produced print and digital stories and columns at The Seattle Times. I was lured from a great job there this past summer to help launch this irresistible endeavor.
Given the state of our industry, and national politics, many of my friends told me I was nuts — but also confessed twinges of jealousy at the notion of creating a news enterprise from scratch. I embrace and treasure that opportunity and carry their support as wind at our backs.
My weekly Thursday column will be a personal take on local affairs and life in what has become of the modern U.S. Think of it more as a traditional newspaper metro column than a weekly scold or polemic on the failures of Subsection D of any public policy. Sometimes I’ll attempt to entertain; other times my anger will show. My hope is that the column will challenge your beliefs, not reinforce walls of hardened bunkers of thought.
Opinions will be my own, not those of the company nor our staff, and I expect the column to be a two-way conversation. I’ll also be writing material for a second feature, The Hammer, with lighter takes on daily life. Its format might seem familiar to some of my longtime Sunday readers at the Seattle Times.
The rest of what you see from CDN will come from a growing group of community contributors, a small sprinkling of syndicated content, and what I believe is a top-notch staff of fact-diggers and storytellers.
We begin with high standards, but we are decidedly a work in progress. What the product will become will depend distinctly on its interaction with the community — the more of that, the better.
We’ll cover news hard and soft, with voices ranging from sober to cheeky, and given our limited numbers, we will not get to everything. But we’ll be doing our level best to titillate, infuriate, instigate and inspire. To a person, we are thrilled to bring you the news in a competitive news environment — sadly, another true rarity in America today in a market our size, or any other.
We’re not going to ask for your trust; it’s something that’s better earned. But you can rest assured we will be distinctly different — a publication with a beating heart, an active voice, and the verve to serve as a stand-in for the public.
Our goal is to relink the connective civic tissue that gives our community, writ small and large, at least a chance to self-repair. It is to use fact-based journalism, which Bob Woodward once described as “society’s conversation with itself,” to make that chat less stilted. It is to provide a civic path back to the essence of the story — our story, told and delivered by local folks.
It’s what our publisher, David Syre, laid out in an over-arching mission for this publication: to channel the curiosity and hope boiling within each of us into words, images and insights that pry open the long-stuck window to the “soul of our community.”
If you trust us to bare it, we’ll do our best to show it off.
Executive Editor Ron Judd's column appears on Wednesdays. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @roncjudd.