Ron Judd

Grateful, and hopeful, after a full year in print

Private ownership and civic obligation fuel CDN's future
March 1, 2023 at 5:00 a.m.
Environmental reporter Julia Lerner takes a look at the first print edition of Cascadia Daily News March 1, 2022 at Skagit Publishing.
Environmental reporter Julia Lerner takes a look at the first print edition of Cascadia Daily News March 1, 2022 at Skagit Publishing. (Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News)

Executive Editor

It was a dark and portentous night, one year ago, when the presses first started to rumble. 

For someone who literally grew up in newsrooms — including a formative-years workplace in Bremerton, where the press at The Sun was located right downstairs, making the floor rumble like a 747 on takeoff every time it fired up moments after our morning deadline — the clackety churn of the press in Mount Vernon on March 1, 2022, was a lifetime memory.

Not for love of the machinery. For pride in what rolled off it. 

That was Vol. 1, Issue 1 of Cascadia Daily News. One year and 52 issues later, we’re still here, and girding for what we hope will be the long haul. 

Looking back, recalling the grating frustrations and inspiring moments that come with the rare opportunity to create a new product, from scratch, it seems infinitely longer than a year. The editor has, no doubt, some additional gray hair to show for it.

But he also carries great pride in accomplishments racked up by a dedicated newsroom in only 12 months. 

We've been working hard to fill a hole left in regional civic engagement by the shrinking of traditional corporate-owed news sources. CDN, as intended, employs a staff of a dozen reporters, visual journalists, editors and interns to cover breaking daily news and take hard looks at local governments and institutions too long free of sufficient scrutiny. It has, from the perspective of this two-decade-long Whatcom County dweller, made a tangible difference.

We also have worked diligently to expand coverage of local arts and entertainment, civic events such as Ski to Sea, and, especially, coverage of prep and college sports — civic touchstones, all. We’ve regenerated an active editorial page for our community, and last year, via our Citizens Agenda project, restored the sort of reader-driven campaign coverage daily newspapers used to be known for.

Result: Added to the civic-highlight reel alongside all that saltwater and brew pubbery is Bellingham's new status as one of few cities in America with competing daily news products. Don’t take that for granted.

As a publication, we are highly imperfect but dedicated to the constant evolution we believe will be necessary to meet ever-shifting news priorities. We’re currently exploring all-new ways to bring you news on a daily basis; the future is exciting.

And on our first print anniversary, it’s worth noting that through all of that we — and thus you — have managed to avoid a common fatal trait, in terms of trust, facing too many modern media organizations: pressures to tailor our coverage and principles to meet the silent or vocal business interests of owners and advertisers.

That is by design. 

CDN was born amid what its founders considered duel crises: shrinking public faith in media, and ongoing, concerted attacks on democratic institutions. We launched as a response to civic problems, not as a means to make money. 

We operate as a for-profit institution not with the expectation of profit, but for structural reasons: Our sole owner, David Syre, rejected a nonprofit model because, he says,  he wanted to keep the newsroom free from news-judgment pressures, subtle or overt, from a committee. His goal, he said, was to have CDN’s executive editor answer to a single person, a publisher, who would provide editorial independence in the best traditions of independent U.S. journalism.

The private-ownership model has long served U.S. journalism well, producing some of its greatest work. It continues to do so at publications where owners view their product as a civic service, not a cash machine. To be clear: This is the exception, not the norm, in the modern media universe. All too many corporate media organizations are fixated on sinister return-on-investment principles, creating sinister pressures to produce copious “news content” of prurient interest, but no civic value. 

But as some recovering U.S. dailies are proving, by operating on financial models more dependent on subscriptions and grant funding than advertising, it’s not the private ownership model that’s broken: it’s the lack of civic obligation among modern owners, reflecting trends in the broader U.S. corporate world.

Here's hoping our community appreciates the presence of a company operating under that exceptionally rare private-ownership model here. CDN's owner has been true to his pledge of newsroom independence, and we guard that carefully against potential incursions from any direction.

Sound too good to be true for fans of local news? It still could be.

We are nothing if not a hopeful experiment. CDN’s ownership, which long ago pledged to plow any potential profit back into the news operation, has effectively front-funded a professional newsroom. That isn't cheap. The hope is that our community will step up to make it financially sustainable. We’re off to a solid start, but much work remains. 

It’s a simple fact that our subscriber base will need to grow substantially to ensure CDN keeps rolling into the long-term future. We're confident we'll get there. But it's really up to you. 

If you have suggestions for us to up our game, let me or Managing Editor Staci Baird know, or send a note to our inbox, If you like what you see, and believe in our cause of independent, local journalism and all it portends, we need your backing. The best and most effective way to show your support is to get a subscription that helps keep it all going. 

We’re grateful for a full year of support. And literally counting on more.

Ron Judd's column appears on Wednesdays;; @roncjudd.

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