This issue marks the start of The Northern Light’s 21st year of publishing. When Louise Mugar and I first considered starting a newspaper for Blaine and Birch Bay, we gave no thought to long-term prospects. We worried about making it last the year.
We did have some experience under our belts; since 1991, we had been publishing the All Point Bulletin (APB), the monthly newspaper of Point Roberts. Still, it was a leap to go from a monthly to, at first, a biweekly and then weekly newspaper. It meant staff, higher costs and unknown risks. It also meant competing against an established competitor, the Blaine Banner. (We were returning a favor; in 1991, the Banner attempted to start a paper in Point Roberts.)
We had some things in our favor. We had already done business either editorially or advertising with members of the Blaine community. They appreciated our editorial philosophy of taking no sides and straight reporting and encouraged us to start a newspaper here. Others came on board as we went along. We also had the nucleus of great staff: editor (and former owner of the APB) Glennys Christie and graphic designer Ruth Lauman (she’s still here). While some have stayed and others have left, the people seen above represent the best team this newspaper has ever fielded. We are proud to be associated with each and every one of them. (Reporter Ian Ferguson is up in Alaska.)
How did we pick the name? We bounced around a few candidates. The Semiahmoo Bay Eagle was a strong contender for awhile. Then Glennys discovered that the first newspaper in Whatcom County was named The Northern Light and that was it. The fact that it only lasted for 11 issues back in 1858 gave us our first goal: 12 issues or bust. Four issues from now, the July 16 paper will be the thousandth issue of The Northern Light.
One of the first things we had to decide was: should The Northern Light be solely advertiser supported or should readers pay for it? It’s kind of a chicken versus egg question – how can you get people to advertise if you can’t guarantee them readership? Consequently, we use the U.S. Postal Service to deliver to 8,300 homes and apartments every week in Blaine and Birch Bay. In addition, another 2,200 copies are sent to stores and outlets making us the largest weekly community newspaper by distribution in Whatcom County. That kind of reach doesn’t come without cost but it does make it effective – one of our advertisers ran a coupon two weeks ago and has had nearly 300 people redeem it so far.
It’s interesting to look back at early issues and see who advertised with us then and still do: Pacific Building Center, The C Shop, Semiahmoo Resort, Blaine Insurance (now Fortiphi) and Paso del Norte (then El Sombrero), for example. Some did but sadly no longer exist: Goff’s Department Store, RadioShack, and most recently, Blaine Marina.
We are often asked about the future of newspapers and our answer is, we don’t know. We know that weekly newspapers have been doing reasonably well compared to the big city dailies. Weeklies report on events and people that are close to home, heart and wallet. A drop in national unemployment numbers might not mean anything to someone living on Drayton Harbor Road but an increase in property taxes sure does. The neighbor’s kid who got a full ride to a good university or won a state technology award is someone you see every day and are happy that you do. You may eventually only read the local newspaper through electronic means but we’re pretty sure you’ll still be reading it. A community newspaper is exactly that – a newspaper for the community. Without a newspaper, it’s hard to be a community.
We’re also proud to be an independent, local publisher. We may not make anywhere near the money that the big media outfits do but we have no problem sleeping at night. We’re proud of what we do and what we provide our readers and advertisers.
We’ve grown somewhat; in addition to The Northern Light and All Point Bulletin, we also publish Pacific Coast Weddings, Waterside, Mount Baker Experience and various local maps. It keeps us pretty busy.
We appreciate the support given us by our readers over the years. We may not be perfect but we’re not complacent. We even appreciate the occasional brickbat sent our way: they force us to re-examine our assumptions and positions. They are often more useful than compliments (though we like the latter more).
We didn’t start the first issue with a “Here’s to the next 20 years” so we won’t do that now. We’re pretty sure we’ll beat another 11 issues though. Thank you.
Pat Grubb and Louise Mugar