Re-imagining a Local Press

At a recent forum titled “The Future of Our Local Press”, hosted by Tacoma City Club, residents were provided an opportunity to contemplate the current and future state of local press in Tacoma. Sitting on the panel were esteemed members of local media, representing different media outlets, including print, electronic and radio.  In recent years, the role of the press, more commonly referred to as ‘the media’, has seemed to change drastically.

journalists tools

Hoping to get some insight and encouragement since I have become disillusioned by the tone and tenor of reporting, especially on environmental issues at the local level, I made it a point to be in attendance at this forum. The bias and outright vitriol that has been allowed to be printed in our local media outlets, touted as ‘reporting’, has profoundly jolted my journalistic sensibilities.

Going in to the forum with high hopes for meaningful discussion about how to restore the “4th Estate” in a good way in our community, I am sorry to report that I came away most disappointed. In fact, I was fairly furious at what was being said during the presentation. The locus of the conversation radiated around money, with the gist of the conversation focused on the question of how do we finance and support local media?

Not being an idiot, understanding that the finance piece is a fairly important piece, it still is mind-boggling to think that this is the first place where we have to direct the conversation, understanding that the quality of reporting is so damaged and broken.

Take a little time to educate yourself about media literacy and the 4th estate and it won’t take long to find yourself down a pretty deep rabbit hole. There is the idea of a 5th estate, composed of bloggers and armchair journalists, a population to which I guess I belong. In the rabbit hole, I started questioning the validity of this idea that the 4th estate is an additional pillar  of the medieval idea of the three pillars that maintain society . It onlyl took a few hours of critical analysis to realize that, at one level, it makes absolute sense that the 4th estate would eventually be completely subsumed by the elite, aka the nobility.

It is common practice for me to try to think with my Indigenous critical thinking skills. This takes me to a completely different way of viewing the world, even though my traditional ways of knowing and thinking weren’t passed down to me formally. They still live in my cells. I often will find myself questioning Indigenous elders or peers to get their insights and wisdom as I try to navigate a wicked problem.

From there, came the question: what if we stopped thinking about the “4th Estate” and instead thought about community empowerment through media literacy and critical thinking workshops? What if we restored an Indigenous way of reporting what is important to our communities? Would we find ourselves not needing the normalized and ingrained media outlets? Would we find our ways to community-based knowledge sharing and knowledge-gathering? One of the presenters at the Forum brought up Block Club Chicago – a grassroots movement to report out on the happenings, block by block, which seems to be a version of this idea.

This is a very interesting platform for communities to consider, especially in an age where media are demonized and subject to lawsuits. 

In Tacoma, we are desperately lacking valuable press outlets. And rather than waiting for the current outlets to right themselves, or for the “angel donor” of lore (which is a bad idea, to my mind) to come finance some start-up, we should all come together and put our own press / newsroom together.

The first step is to find people who are interested in building this community resource, in a good way. Who are the writers? The creatives? The Visionaries? The Connectors? Where are the people whose stories are burning to be told? What do we need to do to connect everyone? Who can teach about media literacy? Who wants to participate?

I put these questions to you, random reader, because I definitely do not hold the answers. But I know they are out there. And maybe you have some of the answers.

What are your thoughts and feelings on this?

While you’re thinking about it, mosey on over here to Civil and have a look at their constitution. Pretty exciting stuff.

Doctrine of Public Trust Part 1

Foundations of Public Trust

“The concept of the public trust relates back to the origins of democratic government and its seminal idea that within the public lies the true power and future of a society; therefore, whatever trust the public places in its officials must be respected.” Wikipedia

To my mind, there are additional elements that define the doctrine of public trust and most politicians/representatives of agency totally fail at upholding them.

To be a good steward of the public trust one must:

  1. Know what you are doing.
  2. Do the work with integrity and due diligence.
  3. Listen to all the people, to understand.
  4. Understand and value the fiduciary responsibility of being a guardian of the public commons.

In 2017, while citizens of Tacoma were fighting expansion of fossil fuel projects in the tideflats at the Port of Tacoma, a council member encouraged the citizens to propose a buffer zone amendment to the City’s planning commission. This was a huge undertaking by several citizens, who diligently researched the process, gave their own time, and prepared a substantial case for an increased buffer zone between port industries and residential neighborhoods.

Two years later, a committee is finally formed, and we see that the committee is so stacked with industry one would be hard pressed to believe that this whole effort was started by citizens. Two years later, the draft recommendations of the committee are being considered. The way that the “outcomes” are written gives one great pause. It appears that the intent is to maintain the status quo of unbridled development of industry at port and easy paths through city hall, to continue the status quo of industry infiltration and degradation of port lands, without the oversight and input of the people.

The trust that was placed with the councilman and the other representatives for the government of the city of Tacoma was threadbare to begin with, but now it is gossamer.

Here are the parts of the DRAFT Tideflats Subarea Work Plan that we should pay really close attention to, because industry and agency have already shown that they work together, and they don’t work for you.

Item number 1 on the plan states: “The Subarea Plan will protect the fisheries and shellfish resources that are essential to the tribe both culturally and economically and shall support continued growth of the regional economy and the currently estimated 29,000 existing family-wage jobs in the maritime, manufacturing and industrial sectors, the provision of infrastructure and services necessary to support these areas, and the important role of the Tideflats area as an economic engine for the City of Tacoma, Pierce County, state, and the region while protecting the livability of the surrounding areas.”

Good lord. So much to dig into there. First of all, that is one sentence!! One sentence and it’s so garbled and awkward that it would be really easy to get lost in the meaning. Which, to my mind, is intentional. There’s a lot of talk about “economy” and preservation of the economy for City of Tacoma, Pierce County, the state, and the region – NO MENTION OF THE TRIBE – even though they start the sentence by talking about the tribe AS IT PERTAINS TO FISHERIES. As if the Puyallup Tribe of Indians has no other economic stake or interest in the tideflats being a sustainable area aside from their constitutionally guaranteed treaty right to fisheries. And only once do the citizens of the ‘surrounding areas’ get mentioned. We must all only care about money. Not about anything else. /sarcasm/ Pay attention to how this gets handled and who sits at the table at every meeting. Pay attention to what they talk about.

Item number 3 states: “The Subarea Plan will establish environmental improvement goals for Commencement Bay, including providing for greater bay-wide diversity of ecosystems, restoration of historic functions and improvement of physical conditions to protect and enhance environmental and cultural resources.”

I’m very concerned that the focus of this environmental statement centers on Commencement Bay, and doesn’t really say anything about the Puyallup estuary nor the streams and creeks that flow into the estuary and then out into Commencement Bay. I am very concerned the potential that this means that environmental efforts will be intentionally focused away from the estuary, rather than acknowledging and honoring the fact that the estuary is a vital organ of Commencement Bay, and therefore the Salish Sea. It is very critical that this item does not get lost in the shuffle.

Item number 5 finally addresses health and safety. After all the talk of the economy, we finally get to the health and safety of the people. Remember Wikipedia’s description of the doctrine of the public trust? “The concept of the public trust relates back to the origins of democratic government and its seminal idea that within the public lies the true power and future of a society…” the health and safety of the employees and residents should not register at number 5 on the list of priorities.

There are more items to address so say tuned for follow-up reviews.


I am reminded lately that the universe is a very intentional place. No effort or action goes without consequence. Those consequences can be mitigated by intentionality.


In this season of electing representatives, I see so much anguish and fervor. I see a lot of fear. I am remembering that creating anything from fear rarely has a good outcome. I offer to you these thoughts that have been rumbling around my consciousness for the last couple of days, on the topic of “what do I want in a representative” – sometimes alternately titled as “what kind of representative would I be?”.

I wish for a representative who eschews the traditional proliferation of road signs and wishes rather to embrace and make known her/his heart with a handshake and a conversation. A reminder that the energy s/he puts into the world lasts longer when it comes from the heart.

I wish for a representative who avoids fancy dinners with exclusive constituents and favors the community potlucks and neighborhood council meetings. Who accepts a dinner/lunch invitation from industry/wealthy constituents ONLY if a member from the community, whose life is affected by the topic to be discussed at said dinner/lunch, is also invited.

I wish for a representative who remembers that the ‘resources’ s/he manages are not privileges but are rights; that these ‘resources’ are shared by all and should be considered and discussed within the greater community, rather than in a small group of exclusively selected participants.

I wish for a representative who does not complain when her/his constituents get saucy or loud when it comes to solving the wicked problems we face.

I wish for a representative who does not have a cold heart and will stop everything to make sure that the most vulnerable among us are cared for, rather than continuing ‘business as usual’ as if nothing is more important.

These are a few of my wishes. What are yours?