For the past six months, we’ve heard it from vendors large and small — people who sell computers, software, information services, wire-service stories, even pens and notepads.
You’re starting a what?
(Mumble sigh.) “Newspaper.”
“You mean like an old-fashioned, comics-page and editorial-section newspaper?
But not on real paper, right?
“Well, actually …”
Welcome to the “actually” point. Some thousands of you on this fateful — and for us, historic — day, March 2, 2022, might actually be reading this column the way folks have absorbed their news since before the American Revolution: In print.
Are we nuts? Maybe. But don't say that like it's a bad thing.
Against the winds
Around the country, products like today’s print edition of the Cascadia Daily News are dying on the vine. Rapidly. The reasons are obvious: High production costs compared to the relatively rent-free space of the ethereal online galaxy, along with a vexing decline of the print paper’s stock-and-trade: display advertising.
The traditional newspaper industry is cratered; with rare but notable exceptions, the craft of journalism struggles daily to lift itself from the hole. Even news organizations still bothering to field competent journos at living wages mostly shifted long ago to producing most news online, without a print product readers can hold onto.
Most of these “legacy” media, in fact, are in the process of slowly pulling that print product away from a long-faithful readership, reducing print days per week from seven to several as their audience literally fades away. Hoping no one notices, they're moving toward a hybrid system with an active online news presence supplemented by a single weekly print edition celebrating and expanding upon that digitally delivered work.
This is the point at which we begin, which we see as an advantage. To build CDN’s niche in a competitive news market with a literate, news-hungry audience, it’s long been our aim to launch a dual-focused news service, with an active daily website and other digital delivery systems supplemented by a weekly print paper that's holdable and foldable.
It's part of our image, and it's intentional.
A journalistic purpose
But we're journalists, not marketers. A print newspaper in our case is more than just an old-timer’s feel-good throwback. As a Northwesterner who has never lived in a home without a daily printed newspaper, there’s definitely something to that old newsprint feel. But I rarely consume my news anymore in print editions.
When I do, it feels different; like the light I get from a vintage Coleman lantern instead of an LED bulb. It's semi-primitive, sure, but also comforting and visceral, like a good stovetop stew in a cast-iron kettle rather than a microwaved pouch.
Nostalgia, however, is not our purpose. Your local newspaper believes a local newspaper is critical to its identity as a community meeting place. You can’t spread the daily mix of stories from cascadiadaily.com, our website, out across a table at Diamond Jim’s over hash and eggs and debate the merits of a new tax to raise money for child care. You can’t slip a tablet open to the puzzles page into your back pocket and slide on your butt down to a fishing hole along the Nooksack.
For those reasons and the value of tradition of our craft itself, we relish the opportunity to have our newspaper serve as an actual newspaper — a tangible product spreading our name and our news around Northwest Washington in a visible, tangible way. We believe the addition of a print paper provides a richer overall reader experience, allowing us to tell stories in visual ways that sink into a different part of a reader’s brain.
It is a news business
Of course, there’s a business purpose, as well: CDN hopes to become a sustainable local news organization by selling member subscriptions that include a print paper and full digital access. That print paper’s cost, we hope, will be underwritten by retail advertising, which will fill pages of the print paper while not fouling the experience of online reading to paid subscribers that vexes so many former newspaper consumers.
Our hope for the print paper is that readers will find it a pleasant, more-relaxed part of a broader news experience. We'd like it to feel like a rounded publication with news big and small, thoughtful coverage of the arts, sports, opinion and yes, some puckish personality. Some of its content will be unique; other features will be present in both print and digital.
We hope the combination will make you want to join us as subscribers to a broader package that in subtle ways looks and feels like it all goes together.
This is a hunch. We might be wrong; we might be right. We’ll settle for something in between.
Throughout its creation throes, Cascadia Daily News, while fighting the usual uphill battles of a startup, has been blessed by moments of seeming kismet that have kept the project on track: A publisher willing to defy business odds and invest in a newspaper when others are shutting them down; a series of chance connections bringing staff members separated by generations together in unlikely but energizing ways. And now, the launching of a print newspaper in an era where most cities see them disappear.
We’re not sure where that all leads, but we’re riding it at a full gallop as far as it will carry us. And we hope many of you will come along for the trek.
So to the print reader, young or old, enjoy what’s in your hands today. It is a labor of love, and even in our current upside-down world, the creation of a newspaper ranks among the rarest of things.
We're celebrating that today. But like any worthy journalistic enterprise, the ultimate value of our newspaper will be judged not by how it is delivered but what meaning it delivers.
That’s our challenge and our opportunity, and we’re honored at long last to place it literally in your hands.
Executive Editor Ron Judd's column appears on Wednesdays. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @roncjudd.