by Ted S. McGregor, Jr. & r & Editor & amp; Publisher
From the very beginning, people have wondered who we are and where we came from. I remember one early caller who couldn't quite wrap his mind around the concept behind a weekly newspaper devoted to what's going on around the region. He concluded his call with, "Man, you guys must be from California."
I guess it was a compliment, though the fact is we're from right here in Spokane. But we did have a new idea -- one that had a strong track record in cities across the country -- and as we sit here, 10 years later, it's clear that back in 1993 the region was ready for that idea. But as we all learned, no matter how good your idea may be, turning it into an actual business is a challenge all its own.
By the time my brother Jeremy, my mom Jeanne and I went into business together, we had a lot to learn. Today, we support nearly 30 employees and provide a crucial link between business owners and their customers. We're grateful to have become an important part of the lives of more than 100,000 Inland Northwesterners.
The story of The Inlander goes back a bit farther than those hectic days leading up to our first edition, which hit the streets on Oct. 20, 1993. You could really say it started around the turn of the century, when our family's ancestors decided to try something different. The story I'm most familiar with is my mom's grandfather, Dominic, who left his tiny village in the Italian countryside for America. After setting up shop in Spokane as a stonemason, he made the long trip home and picked out a wife; my great-grandmother, Katerina, left Italy for Spokane when she was just 16 years old. Without the chances they took, none of this would be possible.
Or maybe our story really starts in the 1930s, when my mom's dad, Joe Peirone, bought a truck and started hauling Washington apples to California and bringing oranges back on his return trip. His legacy survives here in Spokane as Peirone Produce. I know his work ethic lives on in Jer and me. We all wish he could have lived long enough to see what we've done here in this place he loved so much.
Or maybe it started when I took an internship at Seattle Weekly in 1987, just after I graduated from the University of Washington. I've looked up to that publication ever since. Or maybe it started in the summer of 1990, a summer I spent in a cramped apartment in Columbia, Mo., writing the professional project I needed to finish my master's in journalism. The topic? Starting an alternative weekly newspaper in my home- town of Spokane. Sometime that summer, I came up with the name: The Pacific Northwest Inlander.
And it certainly would never have gotten off the ground without our grandmother, Alice, and our mom, who both believed in us enough to bet a good chunk of the money left from grandpa's business on our plans. But Jeanne did a lot more in those early days than just write checks. She sold ads for us when nobody was buying, creating relationships that last to this day. Her dad would have been proud. I think she had the best time of her professional career. We certainly benefitted; our newspaper would not be here if it weren't for her. Period.
And there's no way we'd be the success we are today if Jer, my little brother, hadn't agreed to be my partner. They say never to go into business with your family. Maybe that's true for some families, but not ours. I can't imagine a better partner, someone I could trust, rely on and commiserate with more than Jer. We both grew up while we did this job; I was 28 and Jer was 23 when we started out. But once he got the hang of it, The Inlander has done nothing but grow. He's got this thing humming.
So our existence, like any business -- like any individual -- is tenuous. But once we got started, we made up for our lack of experience with lots and lots of hard work. And that's where our employees come in. Over the years, the amount of effort, dedication and teamwork has been humbling. I tell our staff from time to time that all a newspaper really is resides in the people who work there at a given time. Sure, we have a few computers and desks, but our continued existence depends on having good ideas that turn into engaging content and it depends on delivering customers to our advertisers. Being a free paper means there are no guarantees that people will pick you up. We have to earn it every single week, and our staff never lets us down.
What keeps them working so hard, and what keeps you all picking us up every week? In the past couple of months, that's the question I've been asking myself. To answer it, I've pored over our bound volumes of back issues -- more than 500 issues in all.
What do I see? I see this experiment in journalism bearing fruit. The stories we tell about ourselves here locally matter. A lot. It always bothered me that the best way to get on the evening news was to kill somebody. We never thought we had to put O.J. Simpson on our front page to get you to pick it up. Thankfully, you've agreed. In 10 years, we've become the best-read weekly newspaper in the country, according to independent research.
But I also see a weekly reminder that the Inland Northwest is a dynamic, fun place to live. Everybody knows about Spokane's self-esteem problem. I think The Inlander is a form of weekly therapy against all those negative vibes.
I came across a line from our former Arts Editor Nick Heil; he wrote it on the occasion of his leaving town for a job at Outside magazine. "I might be Spokane's biggest booster if not for the simple fact that it just doesn't seem to recognize what it has," he wrote. "And that it continues to lurch along, caught up in petty feuds, apologizing for itself, accepting mediocrity."
We try to challenge that mindset, in ways as subtle as a calendar listing and as audacious as a cover story. We simply don't accept that Spokane is inferior to any city.
Another thing I see as I scan our past issues is that we truly are an earnest bunch. We are not cynical, and that is not easy in our line of work. We try to be fair in our coverage. We take our responsibility very seriously. In short, we try hard and we mean well.
And of course we serve the very important function of uniting our readers with businesses. When we started The Inlander, weeklies were considered a niche medium. It was a good niche, but it was no mass-market vehicle. And experts in the field told us that Spokane would be a marginal market for an alternative weekly. We've changed that conventional wisdom; with such a strong readership, we have a reach comparable to the region's leading media. But the beauty is, we're not as expensive as other media -- meaning small, locally owned businesses can get on an even playing field with the big boys through our pages. This might sound like a sales pitch, but it's just the facts.
Finally, none of this would have been possible without you -- our readers and advertisers. You all embraced us, I believe, because we share the same aspirations. We want the Inland Northwest to change; we want it to feel good about itself, to support a range of small, locally owned businesses and to get off the sofa and do something.
So read through these pages. Yes, this is our story, but at the same time they're your stories -- the stories of the Inland Northwest over the past decade.
Craziest Inlander stories
The Butler Did It -- In our 2000 Gift Guide, we ran a little item on how you could get your husband (or wife) a butler for Christmas. Turns out there's a butler school back east, and you can just hire one from there. Well, a year or so had passed when we got a note from a Spokane man who had read the story, looked up the school and enrolled. He had graduated and was happily serving as a Jeeves for some blueblood or another.
Seeing the Light -- While passing through Spokane, a woman stopped by at Fitzbillie's, grabbed a quick latte and started paging through The Inlander. Her eyes fixed on an ad; she quickly visited the shop in question and made a purchase. But it wasn't just any purchase; it was the biggest thing Luminaria ever sold -- an $86,000 antique chandelier. The woman continues to be one of Luminaria's clients. All we can say is, results may vary.
Inlander Sold! -- For our April 1, 1998, issue, we thought it would be fun to do an April Fools' prank. How about a fake Spokesman-Review? We could spoof them; we could even claim to have been purchased by them. The page was hilarious, filled with phony but plausible names and places. There was a fake "Slice" called "The Chunk" and a story of how The Inlander had been sold to the Spokesperson-Review. Here's a quote from that "story":
"It's our goal to control as much of the local media as possible," says Tracy Cole, leader of his family's media empire. "The, what's it called... The Islander, that's it, The Islander was starting to really bother us, like some kind of strange green bug that keeps landing on your fried chicken at a summer picnic. So instead of swatting it and getting green bug guts all over our chicken, we just bought it."
Fred Magruder, one of the owners of the fledgling operation, was overjoyed. "Now I can buy that widescreen TV I've always wanted!"
We had some laughs over this one, but even though there was a huge "April Fools' " banner when you turned the page, many people thought the paper had, in fact, been purchased by the Cowles family. For the record, it was not. We were independent then, we are independent now and we plan on staying independent for the next 10 years. Or, at least until the next time April Fools' Day lands on a Thursday (as it does in 2004).
Don't Mess With Big Al -- When Dan Perkins, aka Tom Tomorrow, did a This Modern World cartoon that made reference to Al Capone as a bad guy, he didn't know what he was getting himself into. In a letter to The Inlander the following week, one dear reader went to great lengths to reclaim Mr. Capone's virtue. Perkins liked the letter so much, he has used the anecdote when he speaks in front of groups ever since.
Picked Up -- One evening, just after our offices had closed, hard-working sales rep Katherine Valinske picked up the phone to the Personals. On the other end, a Mr. Kappelman wanted to know how the dating system worked -- what he needed to do to sign up, that kind of thing. Long story short: Katherine Kappelman still works for us, but she doesn't answer that line any more.