Opinion

78% of U.S. adults have never spoken with a local journalist. We want to change that

A reader wrote me this week that my previous columns were too upbeat. He doesn’t believe we’re growing subscribers.

Now, it’s not often newspaper editors are called out as too Pollyannaish. Maybe never.

We are growing digital subscribers.

The last dozen years have been tough. But I’d like to think my mental state as the captain of the Good Ship Lollypop is less about sharing a name with child star Shirley Temple, for whom it was the signature song, and more about looking forward and seeing the potential when things are changing.

Success for us is not a return to the past.

We want to continue to serve newspaper readers. But our future is digital.

That’s why we’re so excited to see Whatcom County residents support us with digital subscriptions.

We’re here to reflect the community, to hold leaders accountable, to let you know what’s going on. Local newspapers do that better than any other news entity.

We want to continue to partner with the community to provide context and balance to tough topics and to celebrate this wonderful place we all call home.

We need you more than ever to help us tell the stories that make a difference in Whatcom County.

According to the Pew Research Center, 78% of U.S. adults have never spoken with a local journalist.

We plan to change that. Watch for future invitations to join discussion groups about reporting projects.

If you have an idea right now, the best way to suggest something to us is by email. Reporters are often on the phone or away from their desks. They can reply to email when they have a moment.

The news business is often about triage: What’s important, but also what’s happening now. We can’t always get right back to you, but we do try to respond when local residents have an issue.

We watch the newsroom@bellinghamherald.com email almost 24/7. It’s best to start there, as the duty editor (that’s usually me, but always somebody) can find the right reporter to juggle one more story.

The staff does have areas of specificity, but we no longer operate with traditional “beats” where a reporter tries to cover all the news from a particular physical area.

Dave Gallagher has covered the local business community for 21 years. Have a tip that he should check out? He’d like to know. Email him at dgallagher@bhamherald.com.

Kie Relyea covers the ways in which people thrive, or don’t, in Whatcom County. Topics that fall within that category include housing and homelessness, parks and recreation, health and some environmental topics. You can reach her at krelyea@bhamherald.com.

Robert Mittendorf writes about issues before city and county governments, transportation and weather. You can reach him at rmittendorf@bhamherald.com.

Denver Pratt primarily reports on court cases and issues surrounding our criminal justice system. Know something you think she should? Reach out, she’d like to hear from you. You can reach her at dpratt@bhamherald.com.

Dave Rasbach writes about breaking news, including crime and fire activity throughout the county. If you have a tip, please contact him at drasbach@bhamherald.com.

Lacey Young is our multi-media journalist. She specializes in video and is a licensed drone pilot. She often covers events and is always looking for great views of Whatcom County. You can contact her at lyoung@bhamherald.com.

It’s best to send one note to our newsroom email, rather than send notes to everybody. When you do, it’s too easy for everybody to figure somebody else is taking care of the request.

The newsroom email is also the place to send invitations to events or suggest people you’d like to see featured. We look for events and people who are so unique that thousands of people will care to read about them.

We are more focused on covering issues that make a difference in your life. We even have this form to help you tell us about topics that matter to you.

For the next two weeks, I’ll continue to write about our new digital world and how that’s changed your Bellingham Herald. If you have a question about what we do or how or why we do it in the news department, I invite your questions at jshirley@bhamherald.com.

Before I go, because it’s important you know the local people who produce your news, I’ve asked the staff to help me introduce themselves.

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Bellingham Herald reporter Denver Pratt shows off a beer she picked at the Delirium Café, home to more than 2,000 different types of beer, in Brussels during a summer trip to Europe. Bridget Green Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

INTRODUCING: DENVER PRATT

What you do at the Herald: I cover courts and criminal and social justice issues for The Herald. I’m also one of the reporters who goes out into the field during major breaking news events.

Bio: I currently live in South Bellingham with a roommate and our two dogs. I moved to Washington about three years ago from Montana, where I grew up.

What do you do when you’re not at work? I spend much of my free time outdoors walking/hiking with my dog, Luna, or exploring the beautiful region we live in. During the summer weekends, I’m usually camping or on road trips. During the rainy season, I’m usually at one of the local breweries around town. I also enjoy reading, watching TV and seeing live music in my free time.

What are you reading/watching? Recently I’ve been reading a lot of fiction novels set in Europe during the early 1900s, or during WWII. I also love a good crime thriller/detective novel, or a nonfiction history tale. When it comes to shows I watch, the main staples are crime, comedies, documentaries or streaming service originals.

Where’s your happy place? In the middle of a forest surrounded by fresh air, trees and a river. It reminds me of my grandparent’s cabin in the mountains back in Montana.

First job? Stocking shelves at my grandparent’s specialty beer and wine store in Montana. It’s where I learned how to appreciate beer and wine, but also how to hold a conversation with a stranger.

Why’d you become a journalist? I became a journalist because I love telling stories and have been fascinated with them since I was young. I think local journalism is part of the bedrock of democracy, and being entrusted to research, report and get to the bottom of a story is something I feel deeply passionate about. I care about my community and want people to be informed.

What’s a really good day for you professionally? When I get to write a story that makes a difference, has an impact and informs the community.

And the worst? When I make a mistake and lose community members’ trust.

And finally, if you were a Ben and Jerry’s flavor, what would you be? Coffee Toffee Bar Crunch — coffee/chocolate usually sustains me daily.

What did I miss about the essential you? In my short career as a journalist, I’ve met some of the most amazing people. I’ve heard incredible stories of tragedy and struggle, but also those of resilience, perseverance and joy. The human spirit can be truly astounding. I also get to learn something new every single day. There are not many jobs that take you on as many life experiences as journalism does, and it’s one of the reasons I love being a reporter so much. That said, I don’t take my job as a journalist lightly. I don’t do it for the recognition, the money or to see my name in print. I do it because I care deeply about my community and the people in it, and because it’s my passion.

Julie Shirley directs news coverage for The Bellingham Herald and has been the executive editor since 2003. She’s been an editor in Florida, California and Washington since 1979.
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