The most valuable thing I did that summer was call publishers of alternative weeklies all over the country, but especially in markets the size of Spokane -- places like Madison, Wisc., and Little Rock, Ark. Looking back, I can see that every one of them was trying to scare some sense into me. I wouldn't really know how hard starting a newspaper was for years, but I got a preview -- that I shouldn't expect to make any money at all for five years, that organizing creative "alternative" types is like herding cats, that the relentless weekly deadline could easily burn me out and that alt weeklies are, in the end, nice little niche publications.
After detours to Boston and Seattle to work for a couple of weekly newspapers, I came home, and along with my mom, Jeanne, and brother, Jeremy, founded The Inlander in October 1993. And as we toiled, all those publishers' predictions came true -- except for that last one.
Now in our 14th year, The Inlander is anything but a niche medium. Part of the reason we have risen above that tag is that we put out strong, original content, and that our format just seems to work for people. And when you combine that with the fragmenting of the rest of the media market, locally and nationally, it has made us the best-read newspaper in the region and one of the best-read alt-weeklies in the nation.
According to the Media Audit -- an independent research firm that studies more than 100 American media markets -- The Inlander is read by more residents of Spokane and Kootenai counties than section one of the Sunday Spokesman-Review, their best-read section. In fact, of all media studied, from radio to daily newspapers to magazines to television, The Inlander only trails the KHQ-TV 6 pm newscast in audience. And of all the alternative weeklies measured by the Media Audit, The Inlander has placed in the top three for the past five years for highest market penetration in the entire nation.
Back in that little Columbia, Mo., apartment, I hoped we could maintain a circulation of 20,000 every week -- 26,000 was my "best-case" scenario. Today we print about 45,000 newspapers every week, and distribute them from Sandpoint to Moscow/Pullman, and all over Spokane and Kootenai counties. That's one heck of a big niche you all have helped us fill.
We know the success our readers and advertisers have brought us comes with great responsibilities, and we have a staff that is committed to the region and to making a great newspaper, so we never sit still. So starting now (issue No. 685 if you're keeping track), we've gone full-color on every page. We've also expanded our local music coverage (pages 37-41) and our Screen section (formerly Film) by adding a new column about television (page 34). In 2007 we're also set to improve our news section and revamp our Web site.
But as The Inlander is stronger than ever, the rest of the media landscape is shifting wildly. Hundreds of cable TV channels have pushed the network newscasts to once-unthinkable lows. Satellite radio is forcing over-the-air stations to rethink their strategies. Daily papers' printed circulations -- and news staffs -- are shrinking. And the Internet seems to be creating new choices for media consumers all the time. These are trends beyond any media executive's control; the people choose the winners and losers -- that's America.
But I think we're losing something in the shuffle. No longer does a vast majority share the experience of the evening news, and I think our country is less cohesive because of it.
While studying at Missouri, I became fascinated by those turn-of-the-century, general-interest magazines that spanned America, and how they united the nation at its moment of expansion. Some survived (like Harper's) and others were short-lived (like McLure's). General-interest magazines have been a tough sell ever since. In a lot of ways, we try to buck that trend by publishing a regional general-interest magazine/newspaper.
Of course we know we can't control the way people use their media -- we can only offer our vision every week and see who picks it up. But you should know that when you pick up The Inlander, you're doing more than seeing what advice Amy Alkon has this week or checking out what's on sale at Huckleberry's -- you're bucking a trend, too.
Just as all those millions who watched Walter Cronkite call the moon landing were a community, all of you who read our Best of the Inland Northwest issue form a community. Hopefully we can maintain that sense of community here in the Inland Northwest that seems to be evaporating in so many places.
If you're an Inlander reader -- an Inlander, if you will -- you're participating, you're creating a sense of togetherness, of common experience and, hopefully, of fun.
And we all need that, so thanks for reading.
If you have any comments about changes we've made, or changes you think we should make, drop me an e-mail at email@example.com.