Herald moves to second floor of namesake building downtown


This is my last news story written from my sidewalk-level workspace that looks out on the steady traffic of North State Street. Starting this week, I've moved up in the world.

As of Monday, The Bellingham Herald operation - newsroom, circulation, advertising, you name it - will be doing business from the second floor of the Herald Building, with a smidgen of storage space in the basement.

For the first time since the building rose high into the Bellingham sky, the Herald will not occupy any part of the first floor. Changes in news operation, including the outsourcing of Herald press operations to Skagit County, account for much of the shift.

"It's another step in the evolution of the Herald," said Mark Owings, publisher. "We like to think of ourselves as the model of how a modern-day news operation should be set up. We're efficient, we're mobile, and we're adaptable."

When the landmark building opened in 1926, The Bellingham Herald occupied about 10,000 square feet of the first floor as well as the full basement, where the press was located. The rest of the first floor - a series of five retail spaces along the State Street side - was occupied by the Bellingham Chamber of Commerce and other enterprises.

With St. Luke's Hospital a few blocks away, much of the remainder of the six-story building was filled with medical offices and services.

"Everybody my age, their dentist was in this building," said Bob Hall, who, with David Johnston, bought the building three years ago from The McClatchy Co., owner of the Herald.

Soon after 1970, when Gannett Co. merged with the newspaper's then-owner Federated Publications of Michigan, the newsroom expanded into spaces facing State Street occupied by the chamber and by Northwest Fur Shop.

A decade later, with the newspaper business robust, the Herald replaced its aging press in the basement with a new press on the first floor at the south end of the building, where sports, features and editorial offices had been located. To make room, the newsroom expanded northward into space leased by a pharmacy, which moved to the third floor.

Around that time the Herald boasted about 130 employees, occupying the 8,000-square-foot second floor along with the first floor and the basement.

Later, the rise of competitive digital communications compelled the Herald, and other newspapers, to add online focus to its operations and to become more efficient. In keeping with that trend, the Herald sold the building to Hall and Johnston and, also in 2009, reached agreement with the parent company of the Skagit Valley Herald to print the Bellingham newspaper at Skagit's new facility in Mount Vernon.

"We no longer have an expensive press or building to maintain, which allows us to focus completely on our product, which is local news and information," Owings said.

The move to the second floor means less elbow room for the Herald's 67 employees, but there are some advantages, said Julie Shirley, executive editor.

"Newsrooms get hard use, as there's almost always somebody working, making cleaning disruptive," she said. "I'm excited to work in a newsroom with new paint and carpet, new network connections and an updated telephone system.

"Our new second-floor offices have lots of natural light and a beautiful view of downtown and the bay."

Reach DEAN KAHN at dean.kahn@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2291.

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