Radio story on Weekly News heard nationally

 
La Conner Weekly News Publisher Ken Stern stands beside a newspaper sales box.

– Photo courtesy of Jeanie Lindsay

SPREADING THE NEWS – Publisher of the La Conner Weekly News Ken Stern became the poster child for small town newspapers maintaining their viability in the digital age when Northwest News Network reporter Jeanie Lindsay came to La Conner July 5. Her story aired July 20.

The plight of independent community newspapers has become a national story.

And last week that story's dateline was LA CONNER, WA.

A five-minute segment crafted by Jeanie Lindsay, statehouse reporter for KUOW Public Radio and the Northwest News Network, chronicling the struggles of newspapers in small towns focused on efforts by Weekly News publisher Ken Stern to find a buyer for the paper he purchased six years ago. It was heard nationally.

Stern received a phone call Thursday from a "between jobs" 24-year-old photojournalist who heard Lindsay's report in New Mexico while dialed into National Public Radio.

Lindsay, a University of Washington graduate who worked for the Seattle Times before landing her KUOW broadcast gig, visited La Conner July 5 to interview Stern and several residents here on the status of community journalism in general and the Weekly News specifically.

"The folks I talked to probably said it the best," Lindsay told the Weekly News afterward. "Community papers act as a connector. During the reporting for this story, I learned a lot about the role beyond just connecting people to their community, too, though.

"Local newspapers provide a resource, a historical record of their area that people just can't get anywhere else," she added. "Plus, not having a local paper covering local government can contribute to political polarization which isn't really helpful to having productive conversations."

Lindsay spoke with Mit and Maureen Harlan at the couple's North First Street home and included Sally Cram, whose father, the late Pat O'Leary, edited and published the Puget Sound Mail downtown for nearly four decades after buying it at a sheriff's auction.

All three conveyed to Lindsay the importance of having had newspapers in La Conner since 1879.

"I felt it was important that she know La Conner is in such a unique geographic location, midway between cosmopolitan Vancouver and metropolitan Seattle," said Maureen Harlan, a retired La Conner Schools teacher and administrator, "and that we don't need any more national, state or county news. We need community news."

Cram and Mit Harlan each alluded to changing economic trends and evolving technology that have conspired to hamstring the traditional advertising-based hometown print journalism business model.

They harkened back to when La Conner had two grocery stores, both of which advertised in the paper. Cram remembered that when her dad ran the Puget Sound Mail there was a distinct "shop local" mindset in place to support La Conner businesses, including the weekly newspaper.

Much of what Cram and the Harlans shared with Lindsay was echoed by Joan Cross, a 45-year town resident who started a successful physical therapy venture in La Conner.

Lindsay said Cross is among a group of people Stern has approached about purchasing the Weekly News and acting as a board of directors that would hire a managing editor to operate the paper.

"We don't go to the La Conner Weekly News to find out what's going on in the world," Cross told Lindsay, "but what's going on in our little corner of the world – it's important. Nobody covers that except the local newspaper."

Stern hopes to sell the Weekly News for $265,000, notes Lindsay.

Lindsay said she and her editor knew the story is a compelling one.

"So," she said, "I reached out to Ken to learn more.

"I read about a couple of other papers in the region looking or new ownership," said Lindsay, "but ultimately decided to focus primarily on La Conner because Ken was so energetic and excited to talk to me that it was an opportunity that would have been hard to pass up."

Stern provided Lindsay an up-close and personal vantage point from which to view how news is gathered and published in the paper he is fond of saying he owns, but belongs to the community – from the weekly story assignment meeting to delivering the Wednesday edition hot off the press.

"I didn't stay long," Lindsay said, "but it really did feel like a close-knit community as I witnessed Ken interact with folks we bumped into along the paper delivery route.

"I'm eager to return," she insisted, "so I can learn even more about the history and culture of the place on a deeper level. Because just scratching the surface certainly piqued my interest even more."

The same, no doubt, can be said by her listeners.

Hear it yourself: nwnewsnetwork.org/arts-media-and-entertainment/2023-07-20/its-really-a-crisis-why-small-towns-are-fighting-to-save-their-local-newspapers.

 

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