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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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. Im 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, Ill throw in a highlight of each publication.
The Bellingham Herald
Well 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 its left-wing propaganda (go figure), and liberals think its just more Gannett corporate bilge. The Herald itself doesnt 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 Malkins weekly column, which has entertainment value by virtue of being so preposterously hateful and bigoted.
After a rocky start, this weekly just keeps getting better. Many of my press junkie friends say that its already the best source of local news in the county. Its not always a light read, but I think thats 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 Wards View from the Street column. While I dont always agree with Sheris conclusions, shes right on top of local issues, and nails things down in prose thats crisp and bright.
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 Suns 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, Im not sure thats the work ethic that produces a successful newspaper in a highly competitive environment. The Sun is informative and fun to read, so I hope its still around a year from now.
Highlight: Media Nova, a sometimes wry commentary on recent local stories in other papers.
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 lets 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 whats going on around here. Its coverage of environmental issues sets the standard for all other local publications.
Highlight: Matthew Tunneys 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.
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 werent pretty to watch. Its 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 its not as cool without the actual chalkboard.
Highlight: The Skinny. This column remains, year after year, the best political writing in the countysnappy, smartass, informed and insightful. If youre a politician or a local fat cat and youre getting ready to do something sleazy, you had better hope that the Skinny doesnt 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 cant cover all the remaining publications in my big grocery bag, so Ill reach in and grab a few at random. Well call this group the Random Five. Okay...lets look at the lucky winners.
The Town Crier
This is a fiscally conservative quarterly newspaper with libertarian leanings. It doesnt 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.
Im 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 dont know most of the groups appearing around town. Dare I confess that Ive never heard Idiot Pilot, Orange Goblin or Death Cab for Cutie? Looking over the ads in Whats Up, Im aware that there are entire areas of life that I have somehow missed out on. I have no tattoos or body piercings, and Ive 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 thats printed in large type and has a word search puzzlepowerful clues that this isnt going to be a lively journal. Im retired myself, and so are a lot of my friendsbut were retired old lefties who are still into picket lines, demonstrations and general senior rowdiness. Pacific Northwest Retirement magazine is not for us. Im sorry but its, well, boring. Heres an article on how to interpret your glycemic index. Heres a recipe for jello cake. You get the picture. Looking through this magazine makes me want to open my copy of Whats 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 Yogomans 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. Its such an expensive publication that I cant believe you can just pick it up for free around town. Its 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 its worth waiting for.
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Did I miss any publications (see page 11)? Send me an email at email@example.com 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 isnt here, but Talk of the Town is because it contains articles, feeble though they may be. Publications like the Pickfords 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
All Others (in random order)
The Town Crier Bellingham
Whats Up Bellingham
Pacific Northwest Retirement 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