A time to change NW Citizen ownership

After 20 some years of owning and managing Northwest Citizen, I am retiring - and hopeful that some person or group will take ownership and go forward.

After 20 some years of owning and managing Northwest Citizen, I am retiring - and hopeful that some person or group will take ownership and go forward.

• Topics: Business, News Media,

I started Northwest Citizen in September 1995 as a handcrafted blog about local politics and government abuses. This was years before the word “blog” was coined and before Google and before the Wayback Machine.

I am now looking at retiring over the next few weeks. Everything has a time and for me this is the time. I turned 77 last week and that alone could be enough. I’ve given my best on this site for over 20 years. It was started to expose local government misbehavior that the Herald never covered - and other issues they refused to cover.

When I exposed the $4 million KAP scandal at the Port of Bellingham in 1991, the Herald refused to cover the story. It took the Seattle PI to expose the issue. From that loss of millions of county taxpayer dollars, the Herald made a deal with the Port - running one story on it and promising to never mention the word KAP again. The Herald kept their word and the Port continued to spend PR money in the Herald. The Herald made a similar deal with local realtors in the early 1980s over a scandal.

We citizen activists had no viable way of communicating with our fellow citizens in those days. The newspapers were gatekeepers. In the 1980s and 1990s, I was involved professionally as a computer consultant, writing programs for clients, and setting up communications for them. I worked out of a home office and had 9 phone lines into our house. Then came the Internet and I had one of the first T-1 high bandwidth lines put into my house. I was on the Internet in 1992 in a big way. From my home office I hosted an email server and over 20 websites for professional clients. So it was easy for me to set up Northwest Citizen in 1995. And now it is one of the oldest three or four political websites in the world.

In those days there was no way to allow commenting and much else online that we take for granted now. Some of the local liberal political operatives did not like that I criticized liberal as well as conservative elected officials and violated my copyright by setting up a NW Idiot site that copied my posts and turned them into insults. They eventually got tired of it, but I realized that none of the entrenched political interests liked having a light shined on their activities. They all were used to forming deals with the local corporate news media. Over the years, over beers, I’ve learned who did the hatchet job and it included one liberal media person who did not think I was qualified to exercise my right of free speech.

In 2007, I was able to use the new technology and set the new site up with comments, searching abilities and much more. One rule is all must use their own and real name for commenting - and the same for writers. This eliminates trolls.  It also eliminates a majority of possible commenters because free speech is not really tolerated in our society. Careers in government and private corporations are dependent on politically well-behaved employees. What that has done is keep sources of inside information open for me and the writers. The truth really really does want to come out.

Over the years I’ve tried to make this a website that would provide a modest income. Donations from readers are used only for improvements to the site and advertising revenue is for my income. Well, my being a sharp stick in local politics has worked against that effort. Donations have never covered expenses and local companies have said, “No,” to advertising. Village Books has been the incredible exception, supporting the site with never a suggestion that I cover or not cover some issue. They truly do believe in freedom of speech and of the press. I am grateful for the support of the other few advertisers you have seen here. The folks behind the temple building ad just want to support an independent press; they have no real temple building business yet. I thank them. Anyway, over the 20-plus years, I’ve not made a penny. And that is fine. I could have quit anytime. No complaint.

My hope is those who might take this site forward into the future will have better financial support from the community. It is incumbent that we voluntarily support the news media we like with our donation subscriptions. For myself, I subscribe to the Seattle Times, the Washington Post and, yes, to the Bellingham Herald. (For as far as it goes, the Herald informs us of some community events and concerns.) I think we all should budget $200 to $400 a year for news media. Choose where it goes and support it, if we want real news reporting to continue. There are not many fools like myself who will do it for nothing. And there should not be a need for fools.

If any one person or group or organization is interested in taking Northwest Citizen into the future, then contact me. There is already one group that is interested. I want this site to continue and intend to totally remove myself from ownership. The writers and editors want the site to continue. I want to transfer it carefully so it has the best chance of being a viable site for informing our local community on important public issues and for allowing viable and informed dialog with citizen readers and commenters. Well, that is the hope. The timeline is simply that my last day running the site will be June 30.

I have been in local politics for 40 years now, since being the public relations advisor to the Freeholders who wrote our Whatcom County Home Rule Charter in 1978. I was on the small team that successfully managed the campaign for adoption of the charter. A proud moment for me. Another very proud moment was managing the successful campaign for Shirley Van Zanten in 1983 when she was elected the first woman county executive in Washington State. She beat the good ol’ boy who thought it was his. Another proud moment was managing the primary campaign for Theresa Gemmer for Port Commissioner in 1989. She came through the primary but lost in the general. And again, managing the campaign for Shirley Leckman of the Lummi Nation in 1995 for Port, which also did not succeed. There were other successful campaigns and candidates I worked hard for. Some I regretted, like Scott Walker and Doug Smith for Port. And some I supported on this website who won and some who lost. The special one remains Lois Garlick for county executive in 2007. Great story there for sometime.

By the way, the old site is still online. Do me a favor. Read that top of page post of January 8, 2008. Just six paragraphs. I just read it for the first time in years. I like that. That is me. That was the last post on the old site as we prepared to turn on the site you are reading today. That old site ran for over 10 years with just myself, Tip Johnson and Paul deArmond posting articles. We all had different takes on events, but we were all seeking to expose that which the powers preferred to keep hidden.

I hope whomever next takes on Northwest Citizen will promote healthy, candid civic dialog between carefully selected writers and any local citizens or persons who wish to comment. My fear is the mega corporate social media are destroying democracy and our local liberals and conservatives are blindly going along. Support the new owners with subscription donations and local advertising. Make it a viable financial enterprise. Support the real local and independent media.

About John Servais

Citizen Journalist and Editor • Fairhaven, Washington USA • Member since Feb 26, 2008

John started Northwest Citizen in 1995 to inform fellow citizens of serious local political issues that the Bellingham Herald was ignoring. With the help of donors from the beginning, he has [...]

Comments by Readers

Dick Conoboy

May 13, 2018

Thanks, John.  Thanks for all you have done with NWCitizen over the decade I have been contributing as well as before I even knew there was a Bellingham, WA.  I cannot imagine your not being there any longer.  Publisher emeritus comes to mind to provide advice and guidance?

I appreciate the freedom you gave to me and other writers to write about whatever they wished.  Not once did you ever refuse an article I wrote or asked me to change anything I have posted except to correct errors.  If NWCitizen is to continue, I expect that that kind of freedom will be part of the deal. 

Best wishes,




Satpal Sidhu

May 13, 2018

Thanks John for your service to grassroots democracy. It is essential for public to know the truth about their government and governing bodies. We must preserve this tradition to have a future as a nation of the people, for the people and by the people.

Grateful for your service!

Satpal Sidhu


Jon Humphrey

May 13, 2018

Yes John, indeed you are a local hero. I have not seen this level of coverage on local issues in any other place I’ve lived. With companies like the SInclair media group buying up local stations and forcing their anchors to read the same statements in different cities, to give off the impression that they were still local independent stations, we need more of this kind of journalism than ever. The Herald was purchased by the newspaper version of the Sinclair group, admittedly less financially successfully, the McClatchy group and does not print anything negative about their advertisers. Even when their advertisers are outright attacking our First Amendment Rights and obviously have friends in our government like Comcast, CenturyLink and Verizon do. Without you and Northwest Citizen this issue, and the bad math being used to justify it by our government and especially our public works director and some members of council, would never have seen the light of day. The fact that citizens are being refused access to resources they have paid for, and virtually stolen from on behalf of private interests even less attention. I thank you again for giving me, and many other writers with equally important issues, a voice. Without nwcitizen there will literally be no real news source in Bellingham. As you know, I will do what I can to help keep this going. Even after the big telecoms intentionally lower it in priority via the net-neutralty repeal. As for you sir, go find a beach somewhere to relax on. Have a banana daiquiri on me. (I will provide money for the drink next time I see you). You deserve it and it has been my great honor and privilege to get to know you. Don’t worry, a whole new crew is ready to keep this going and preserve the meaning of it as well. Here is a link to Dan Rather’s report on what is going on in mainstream media. https://tytnetwork.com/2018/04/03/the-news-with-dan-rather-april-2-2018/    Local news sources like nwcitizen are the cure. You are a visionary for seeing that, and using the power of the Internet to fight corruption, long before most others.


Michael Riordan

May 14, 2018

Thanks for including me in your circle of NW Citizen writers, John. As an Whatcom County outsider and relative newcomer, it helps to understand some of its long history and raison d’etré.

Wish we had something like this over here in the San Juan Islands to occasionally poke the powers that be in they eye when they do or attempt to do something wrong or underhanded.


Michael Chiavario

May 14, 2018

Thanks, John.

I hope that a group of folks with journalistic ethics as their guide and muckraking and visioning as their goal can step up to keep the site going.


Bill McCallum

May 15, 2018

John, you are a great local asset that will be missed.

Reading about your exposure of the KAP scandal I was reminded that you exposed an attempt by the Port Commission the the May 20, 2003 meeting to hide a $17 million payment. Three insurance companies, Lloyd’s of London (England), Chubb Group (New York, N.Y.), and Traveler’s Insurance Group (Hartford, Conn.) offered to pay $17 million to settle the port’s claim that they were liable for pollution involvings zinc and copper from old unregulated dumps, lead paint from ship hulls and creosote treated timbers and pilings along the waterfront.to the port. The regular commission meeting on May 20, 2003, was recessed at 3:20 p.m. and they went into executive session. The regular meeting was reconvened at 4:55 p.m., the commissioners voted to accept the $17 million and the meeting adjourned at 5:00. Once again, the story was ignored by The Bellingham Herald.

Just last month you exposed an attempt by the city of Bellingham to mislead the public.

Thank you John for maintaining Northwest Citizens for 23 years.


Eric Hirst

May 17, 2018


Congratulations on turning 77 and deciding to begin a well deserved retirement. 

Although I often disagree with the stories and/or comments published in NW Citizen, I very much appreciate the open and free exchange of ideas and information on important local issues. I hope your successors do as good a job as you’ve done in maintaining this resource, which is so essential for democracy.

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