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Past Issues

Whatcom Watch Online
Local News Junkie Reviews Publications

July 2004

Local News Junkie Reviews Publications

by Alan Rhodes

When he is not obsessively reading local publications, Alan Rhodes writes regularly for the Bellingham Weekly, and on occasion for Whatcom Watch. He can be reached at

In order to start my process of recovery, I must first admit my problem. I am a local news junkie. I actually read The Bellingham Herald each morning, and I pick up and read every free local publication that I see. On a recent saunter downtown, I had twenty-eight free newspapers and magazines by the time I got home. I’m not exaggerating that figure for effect; I had a grocery bag filled with twenty-eight local publications!

Before I give you brief sketches of a few of the papers I gathered up, I should make a full disclosure statement: I currently write a column for the Bellingham Weekly and I used to write regularly for The Bellingham Herald.

Let me begin with the papers I call the “Big Five.” As I go along, I’ll throw in a highlight of each publication.

The Bellingham Herald

We’ll start with The Herald for comparative purposes. This is the only Bellingham newspaper that people actually pay for, which is ironic, since nobody likes it. Conservatives think it’s left-wing propaganda (go figure), and liberals think it’s just more Gannett corporate bilge. The Herald itself doesn’t seem to know what it is.

Its coverage of national and world news is thin, to say the least, because The Herald claims that its focus is on local news. But way too much of its local news is of the “fun at the raspberry festival” or “kids frolicking in a fountain on a summer day” sort, rather than anything of substance. Its coverage of both city and county council meetings is often woefully neglectful.

My fellow news junkies seem unanimous in their opinion that The Herald has gone downhill in quality since the departure of editor Evan Miller, and its overall perspective has taken a definite shift to the right.

Highlight: Michelle Malkin’s weekly column, which has entertainment value by virtue of being so preposterously hateful and bigoted.

Whatcom Independent

After a rocky start, this weekly just keeps getting better. Many of my press junkie friends say that it’s already the best source of local news in the county. It’s not always a light read, but I think that’s the point. You get serious news covered in depth. I think the Indy has the potential to evolve into a daily paper if it wants to. A person prone to reach for People Magazine on the newsstand might also go for The Bellingham Herald, while a Harpers or New Yorker reader would buy the Whatcom Independent.

Highlight: Sheri Ward’s “View from the Street” column. While I don’t always agree with Sheri’s conclusions, she’s right on top of local issues, and nails things down in prose that’s crisp and bright.

Northwest Sun

I like the look of this paper, and I like its style, which is a bit more relaxed and user-friendly than the Independent. But in a recent breakfast table discussion at the Old Town Cafe with a half-dozen fellow news junkies, everyone expressed worries about the Sun’s longevity. It recently went from weekly to twice a month, with the editor explaining that the staff needed more time to rest and have fun. While I personally am a big fan of kicking back and enjoying life, I’m not sure that’s the work ethic that produces a successful newspaper in a highly competitive environment. The Sun is informative and fun to read, so I hope it’s still around a year from now.

Highlight: Media Nova, a sometimes wry commentary on recent local stories in other papers.

Whatcom Watch

The Watch, a monthly that has been around for years, is most often described by its readers as “solid” and “reliable.” Its policy seems to be “let’s analyze complex issues and assume that our readers are smart.” While plowing through some of the more technical pieces can seem like homework, you emerge knowing exactly what’s going on around here. Its coverage of environmental issues sets the standard for all other local publications.

Highlight: Matthew Tunney’s column. While Tunney talks about serious subjects, his breezy, often sardonic approach is like dessert after a long, heavily footnoted, graph-laden article discussing, say, autochthonous biomass and the eutrophication of Lake Whatcom.

Bellingham Weekly

The Weekly, along with its predecessor the Every Other Weekly, is a Bellingham institution with a devoted following. During its temporary suspension of publication, local news junkies were going thorough withdrawal symptoms that weren’t pretty to watch. It’s the paper that the other local papers get compared to.

While you now arguably get more extensive reporting of local news in the Independent, the Weekly is livelier and offers much more variety. Its calendar of events and its reviews are first-rate, and the paper is of inestimable value for carrying the cartoons “This Modern World” and “Trouble Town,” islands of sanity in this Bush/Ashcroft era of theocratic fascism.

Many readers turn first to the person-on-the-street column “The Slate.” This popular feature has been borrowed by the Independent, but it’s not as cool without the actual chalkboard.

Highlight: The Skinny. This column remains, year after year, the best political writing in the county—snappy, smartass, informed and insightful. If you’re a politician or a local fat cat and you’re getting ready to do something sleazy, you had better hope that the Skinny doesn’t get wind of it.

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Well, that covers the “Big Five.” My apologies to the editors of all other publications who at this very moment are collapsing in paroxysms of disappointment for not making it into this prestigious company. I can’t cover all the remaining publications in my big grocery bag, so I’ll reach in and grab a few at random. We’ll call this group the “Random Five.” Okay...let’s look at the lucky winners.

The Town Crier

This is a fiscally conservative quarterly newspaper with libertarian leanings. It doesn’t actually feature much news, but four pages of op-ed pieces of wildly varying quality. While I personally find much libertarian economic theory hopelessly impractical, I must confess a fondness for this endearingly oddball little broadside. Libertarians may have some cockamamie ideas, but they usually express them convincingly, and with passion and vigor. It would be a lot more fun to party with Libertarians than Republicans.

What’s Up

I’m afraid I might not be young enough or cool enough for this local music and entertainment magazine. Since my idea is of a great musical evening is to stretch out on the sofa and listen to some vintage Miles Davis, I don’t know most of the groups appearing around town. Dare I confess that I’ve never heard Idiot Pilot, Orange Goblin or Death Cab for Cutie? Looking over the ads in What’s Up, I’m aware that there are entire areas of life that I have somehow missed out on. I have no tattoos or body piercings, and I’ve never shopped for toys, lotions and lubes at Great Northern Books on Railroad Avenue.

Pacific Northwest Retirement

This is the only magazine I picked up that’s printed in large type and has a word search puzzle—powerful clues that this isn’t going to be a lively journal. I’m retired myself, and so are a lot of my friends—but we’re retired old lefties who are still into picket lines, demonstrations and general senior rowdiness. Pacific Northwest Retirement magazine is not for us. I’m sorry but it’s, well, boring. Here’s an article on how to interpret your glycemic index. Here’s a recipe for jello cake. You get the picture. Looking through this magazine makes me want to open my copy of What’s Up again. Maybe I should swing by the Camden Chameleon and get a tattoo, then cruise on over to the 3B Tavern to see if Yogoman’s Wild Rumpus is playing tonight.


Wow, I had no idea you could make a really good anti-fungal baby wipe from vinegar, aloe vera and calendula oil.

Fourth Corner View

This magazine is beautiful: slick, professional, full-color and a visual feast. It’s such an expensive publication that I can’t believe you can just pick it up for free around town. It’s local in the best sense of the word, truly capturing our sense of place. I was really impressed by a piece the publishers wrote for a recent issue in which they spelled out clearly and succinctly the reasons why we should all be supporting independent local businesses. This magazine only comes out twice a year, but it’s worth waiting for.

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Did I miss any publications (see page 11)? Send me an email at if you know of any that I might have overlooked. You should also consider joining me at my next Newspaper Junkies Anonymous meeting. I think you might need help.

Publications Found Around Bellingham

The list below consists of all publications that appeared in the article, and all other publications in my big grocery bag. A few notes and disclaimers:

Except for The Bellingham Herald, which I included in the article for comparative purposes, all 28 remaining publications are found around town for free.

No publications were included if they were catalogs, or pure advertising. So the Little Nickel Classifieds isn’t here, but Talk of the Town is because it contains articles, feeble though they may be. Publications like the Pickford’s Film Calendar are included, because they contain reviews.

WWU and Whatcom Community College publications are included here because they are found for free off campus.

A couple of the publications listed here, like The Stranger and The Seattle Weekly, are from outside Whatcom County but are widely read here, and found for free in every local coffee bar. §

The Big Five

The Bellingham Herald

Whatcom Independent

Northwest Sun

Whatcom Watch

Bellingham Weekly

All Others (in random order)

The Town Crier — Bellingham

What’s Up — Bellingham

Pacific Northwest Retirement — Bellingham

Birthing — Bellingham

Fouth Corner View — Bellingham

Entertainment News NW — Bellingham

Voice of Choices — Marysville

Seattle Weekly — Seattle

Talk of the Town — Editoial office in Ohio

Grass Roots — Whatcom County Democrats

Fairhaven Free Press — Bellingham

The Western Front — Western Washington University

Evergreen Monthly — Seattle

The Stranger — Seattle

Klipsun Magazine — Western Washington University

Idiom Quarterly — Bellingham

Pickford Film Calendar — Bellingham

Northwest Family News — Seattle

The Northern Light — Blaine

Co-op Community News — Bellingham

Northwest Events — Lynden

Horizon — Whatcom Community College

Organic Press — Bow

The Echo — Bellingham

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