For a couple of years before we moved from Los Angeles County (pop. gazillions) to Port Townsend, WA (pop. 9k), I read the weekly newspaper online as a way to familiarize myself with Washington’s issues and interests. I also read online papers from other towns in the Olympic Peninsula region, since I didn’t know where I would end up getting work and moving to. None of the other papers had the individuality and kinetic drive of the homegrown paper in PT.
There are so many things about the Port Townsend Leader/ that make reading it unique and exciting. It’s been published here continuously since 1889, always owned, operated and written by local folks. About ten years ago, the University of Washington recognized what a special window into history the Leader is, and they digitized copies from the early 20th Century into a high-quality searchable format. I’ve been supplementing my understanding of what gives my town its specific kind of personality by reading how it was a hundred years ago.
The paper’s current offices are in a historic sandstone edifice built by one of the town’s original entrepreneurs in 1874. It served as the Jefferson County Courthouse for a decade in the 1880s. The Leader moved there in 1917. It’s now the oldest occupied two-story masonry building in the state of Washington.
The PT Leader offers local features and investigative reporting, written in a crisp, direct style. They publish arts reviews that are not fluff pieces, and op-ed columns written by individuals of different age groups. The online edition includes embedded videos about events, the colorful characters living here, and links to merchants. I like the fact that there are always some positive stories. There are angels, saints and heroes in every town, along with the crime, politics and budget crises. Too many newspapers seem to have forgotten that.
What I like best of all is the dynamic interactivity of responses from readers. Where other area papers will publish 3-5 letters in a specific section, The Leader publishes a hundred or more responses per week. Readers go online and comment on Letters to the Editor, but also on any other article. The best online comments sometimes appear in the following week’s print edition, continuing the lively debate. You get to know all the local gadflies, and see a wide range of points of view. I learned the value of comments from reading the Leader before I began a blog.
“It’s easy enough to identify debits and credits in this era of recession. Declining revenue (sales tax, property tax and what-all) is more the problem than expenditures. Any economist worth his salt also will state that spending as freely as is reasonably possible and getting money into circulation contributes heavily to recovery. Penny-pinching on programs nurturing the general population in order to further fill the vaults of the rich is just plain stupid and non-productive in mean times such as these.”
— Tom Camfield (from his blog in The Leader’s online edition)
Compared to the sloganeering and mis-spelled insults typical of comments sections on national news web sites, these interchanges are mostly substantive, even when they are displays of personal agenda. It’s like being in a boisterous town hall meeting each week. Defeated politicians return to offer opinions on how to solve today’s problems. Local activists plead their causes. Respondents give thanks for those who’ve helped them through difficulty, and eulogize the dead. It’s a cornucopia of life’s flavors and colors. It gives me great joy to see this level of involvement and participation in the exercise of a free press.
(In case you are a comment geek like me, HERE 8 is a link to a current controversy over what form of city government readers think we should have. It’s a miniature version of the national political debate over spending priorities.)
As much as I like exploring the editions online, I have to admit it’s also a pleasure to sit with a good cup of coffee in the roadhouse near work, where all the waitresses know my name, and take my time reading a real, printed paper. There are only two pages of letters in the print edition, but I don’t mind.