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.