Eastern Washington’s weekly newspaper publishing community lost one of its longtime leaders recently and unexpectedly. There aren’t that many of us over here, we know each other, and we all share the same challenges, so it seems appropriate to acknowledge the role that William “Bill” Forhan played in keeping the journalism flame burning in several nearby towns for the past couple of decades.
Bill, who was 74, passed away suddenly at his home in Leavenworth in November. In 2000, Bill and his wife, Carol, purchased Prairie Media/NCW Media Inc., which publishes the Leavenworth Echo, Cashmere Valley Record, Lake Chelan Mirror, Wenatchee Business Journal, Quad City Herald, The Sonnenschein auf Leavenworth and The Lake Chelan Visitor Guides. They also previously owned and published the Okanogan Valley Gazette in Oroville, now owned by Sound Publishing.
Bill was one of my predecessors as president of the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association (WNPA), the trade group that represents the state’s weekly and small daily newspapers. I got to know Bill through that organization when I joined the WNPA board of directors after I purchased the Methow Valley News 2011, and always enjoyed chatting with him.
Bill, a U.S. Army veteran and Army Reserve officer, held strong political views that he was not shy about expressing. He’s described in his obituary “a vocal and passionate conservative,” which won him both fans and detractors. Publishers get used to that.
Bill also believed in, applied and advocated for traditional journalistic principles about what the role of the press should be, and was active in many local community organizations. He, Carol and their staff kept their geographically dispersed collection of community papers going through some very difficult times for newspapers in recent years, as any of us who are in this business can attest.
Small-town papers, whether singly owned (like this one) or part of a group, are fighting for their existence, and that battle has implications for every town, county or region they cover. Each of the communities that NCW Media serves deserves its own independent local newspaper voice to continue their long traditions, and I hope that will be Bill’s legacy.
Eyes on Olympia
Speaking of important journalism, the WNPA Foundation — which for many years has maintained an endowment fund to support the training of young journalists around the state — will once again provide comprehensive coverage when the state Legislature convenes in January by providing student interns to follow legislative actions.
The stories the interns produce will be distributed to WNPA members for publication in print and on their websites. We will use as many of their stories as we can find space for, particularly those that have more direct implications for our part of the state. The stories also will appear online at wastatejournal.org. We expect their contributions to start showing up when the Legislature gets underway. They’ll be under excellent tutelage: Overseeing the work of the students is WNPA Executive Director Fred Obee and the interns’ faculty advisers, Ben Shors from Washington State University and John Tomasic from the University of Washington.
In Washington and around the country, coverage of state legislatures has dropped off dramatically in recent years as news organizations cut staff and shed the substantial logistical costs of keeping reporters at the capitals. Some states barely have anyone paying attention to the what their legislators are up to. The withering of that watchdog function is a real threat to democracy.
As president of the WNPA Foundation, it is my happy duty to support the legislative internship program, and to also help select students to fill summer reporting internships at other weeklies around the state. There are young journalists out with the desire and ability to grow into valuable professionals, and it’s vital for organizations like the foundation to contribute to their development.
Look for our Olympia coverage starting soon. And we’ll be looking for ways to make local connections to the legislators’ actions.