Like an odometer rolling over another 100,000 miles, the numbers at the top of the newspaper’s front page, in what we call the “banner,” continue to relentlessly advance. This week’s issue of the Methow Valley News is Volume 118, No. 1. Acknowledging our birthday is a reminder of what it takes to get from one 12-month period to the next for that many years.
Always, we move through time in syncopation with the community. What the valley achieves, we chronicle for the ages. What the valley argues over, we document. What the valley endures, we endure. When the valley celebrates, we (metaphorically) toss the confetti and pop open the champagne. It’s not always easy. You don’t get to be 118 without some aches, pains, disappointments and heartaches.
Remarkably, you can still read all about it, as if you picked up a fresh paper just this morning from May of 1921. The News embodies the community’s collective memory, and the newspaper’s recollection is perfect. We have bound volumes from every year of the newspaper’s publication — every issue, every word, every image, preserved exactly as it was produced. However that content got there, or however it was perceived, admired or abhorred, it is unalterable.
Unfortunately, it’s not very accessible. Because of the enormous expense that would be involved, most of the valley’s printed memory bank is not digitally stored. Online access goes back only a relatively few years. The older issues are not indexed. If you want to find something, you need to know where to begin, and then start turning the pages.
Before long, you are vividly transported back to a point in the Methow’s history, absorbed in both the minutia and grand moments that defined the era. It’s time travel without the way-back machine.
Unlike the first consumers of those editions, we read with the advantage of historical perspective. We know how things turned out. Newspapers are famously described as the first draft of history, but the Methow saga is a never-ending story.
The newspaper has had different personalities over the years, depending on who owned it, the tenor of the times and the state of the journalism profession. We’ve been driven by rapid technological changes and battered by tectonic shifts in the industry. In some ways, we’ve probably adapted too slowly. In other ways, we’ve stayed consistent with our original mission of providing intensely local information, however it is delivered, that can’t be readily found anywhere else.
Whatever the newspaper accomplishes today is built on an enduring foundation: more than a century of dedication to the community, no matter who was in charge. The publication could not have survived otherwise.
A year ago, as we were adjusting to all the pandemic’s impacts and uncertain how they would affect us, I said this in my column: “I’ve told some of you, in conversation, that I have two goals: to keep my staff employed, and to keep the community informed, connected and unified in purpose and spirit. We appreciate your cooperation and support. It has taken a lot of both over the decades to get us this far. We’ll need more of the same to make it to volume 118.”
Well, here we are. Some days I’m not sure how that happened, but I know for certain that without the infusion of two Paycheck Protection loans, we’d be barely scraping by, or worse. Yet even as advertising revenues fell off dramatically, we have enjoyed an encouraging amount of community support, sometimes in the form of donations (thank you, everyone!). The staff has been devoted, tireless and committed to quality.
I honestly don’t know what, if anything, I’ll be writing 12 months from now as we advance to volume 119. Every week has its challenges. String 52 of them together and you’ve made it another year. I wonder if the paper’s founder, Harry Marble, had any idea that his creation would make it this far into the next century. In Volume 1, Issue 1, in 1903, Marble promised a newspaper that would be “at all times keeping pace with the growth of the country, and sparing no effort to obtain all reliable news of interest to its readers.”
Marble added: “It is the earnest desire of the management that our citizens will contribute their support to the paper, in making it a bright, newsy paper, wanted by everyone, by giving us the news of their several localities. For without the cooperation of our people the material value of the paper would be greatly detracted from.”
All true, to this day.