We’ve never had you over before, so take us up on it

jdodge@theolympian.comFebruary 4, 2014 

In my 30 years at The Olympian, we’ve never extended a communitywide invitation to the public to drop by the newspaper office to meet and interact with the staff.

That all changes 4-7 p.m. Thursday during The Olympian Open House.

If you stop by for refreshments and casual conversation, you’ll be greeted by 30 or so blue-shirted Olympian employees who work, live and recreate in your community — everyday people who happen to be in the news business.

We’re the latest in a succession of newspaper people who’ve been covering news in the Olympia area since 1852.

The newspaper moved from downtown to its current location at the intersection of Bethel Street and Fourth Avenue in 1972. At that time, it was primarily a residential neighborhood. Today, most of the former homes lining State Street and Fourth Avenue contain small, family-owned businesses.

For much of its life, the Daily Olympian published six days a week with the presses quiet on Saturdays. When the paper finally started publishing seven days a week — we added Saturdays about 35 years ago — the name changed to The Olympian. Go figure.

The next big change came Oct. 9, 1989 when the newspaper converted from an afternoon newspaper to morning publication. Ten years later, a major expansion project doubled the newspaper building to 28,000 square feet. For the first time in 27 years, the newsroom had windows.

Not in our wildest dreams did we foresee the future of print journalism in general, or our paper in particular. It’s no secret that it’s been a wild ride, and not always a comfortable one, as we, and all media raced to keep up with digital platforms and changing habits of readers.

First came ownership changes. In September 2005, Gannett Corp. sold The Olympian to Knight Ridder, which then sold to the current owners, the Sacramento, Calif.-based McClatchy Co., in 2006.

And, let’s not forget the Great Recession, which hit The Olympian just as hard as it hit many businesses.

In 2009, The Olympian merged many of its functions with a former competitor, The News Tribune, which is a larger McClatchy paper in Tacoma.

I think the merger fomented a lot of confusion among readers, some of which continues to this day and that we hope to clarify Thursday night.

One question we hear — not so much as two or three years ago, but enough to merit an answer once again — goes something like this: Is there anybody still working in Olympia, or has everybody moved to Tacoma?

Let the record show that the newsroom and its employees are firmly ensconced in Olympia, in the building we first occupied in 1972. We answer our phones here, read our email on computers still in the newsroom and venture out to cover the news in the Thurston County area much as we ever have, given the limitations of a smaller staff. We also benefit from a four-person state Capitol bureau that combines The Olympian and The News Tribune resources into the largest state government coverage team in the capital city.

We also have an independent editorial board that meets with community leaders and elected officials from city, state and federal levels. Our award-winning photographers know all the nooks and crannies of Thurston County, and our home page editor makes sure The Olympian’s website reflects our community. In addition, our senior editor chooses the stories — local and otherwise — that appear on the front page.

The newsroom is still full, but it’s not all “newsies” in there. About half the space is occupied by employees who work in retail advertising. They take up much of the space once occupied by the newsroom folks who edited copy and put together the paper daily. The copy and design editors are all in Tacoma now, along with most other business operations of the paper.

Another question I’m asked on a daily basis is this: What’s the future of The Olympian? Well, I’m way too low on the corporate food chain to have an informed answer. All I have is 38 years in the trenches, first as a cub reporter, then as The Olympian’s first environmental reporter, and now as a columnist and member of the editorial board.

My stock answer goes something like this: As long as retail advertisers of all sizes are willing to buy ads in both the Tacoma and Olympia newspapers, along with a thriving website, social media and mobile apps that also provide revenue, we have independent financial traction. I feel a certain degree of confidence about our future when I thumb through the advertising inserts in the Sunday paper.

Secondly, I can’t imagine a capital city in this country without its own newspaper, its own newspaper website, its own mobile news applications, its own whatever new way to deliver the news comes next.

But don’t just take my word for it. Drop by The Olympian office at 111 Bethel St. NE, Olympia, Thursday night from 4-7 p.m. to meet the employees and ask your own questions about The Olympian and local news coverage. I’ll even show you my messy corner office, if you like.

John Dodge: 360-754-5444 jdodge@theolympian.com

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