Nearly a year after launching in Bellingham, a scrappy news startup is making a difference, informing voters and holding officials accountable.

Cascadia Daily News, which publishes a weekly newspaper and daily report online, now has a staff of 10, plus stringers and freelancers, Executive Editor Ron Judd said.

Its reporting contributed to a decision to pause a costly wastewater project that would increase residents’ bills. It also produced a “citizens agenda” for the coming election, with readers helping identify priorities.

Judd said its reporting also appears to have prodded the emaciated local daily, part of a national chain owned by Wall Street types, to finally increase its local news report.

Lately Cascadia is producing 28-page papers. Around 9,000 copies are mailed and given away. The online edition added a subscription paywall last summer with mixed results.

Cascadia’s still trying to crack the mystery of building a strong digital business needed for long-term sustainability and to broaden its audience beyond a core of avid news readers.


To me this makes another great argument for Congress to help, by passing the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act this year.

The bill would enable small and large outlets to collectively bargain fair compensation from Google and Facebook. It would basically get these dominant platforms to start paying the equivalent of a subscription for news content that adds value to their platforms.

Meanwhile, newspaper staffing fell 70% over the last 15 years and two papers a week are closing, according to a June report by Northwestern University research. That came out before another wave of layoffs at Gannett, the nation’s largest newspaper chain, which last week ordered remaining employees to take unpaid time off during the holidays.

“The JCPA is really designed to stop the bleeding and hopefully provide a path forward to make sure we can sustain and grow local journalism,” its lead House sponsor, U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, told me.

The Rhode Island Democrat said he expects the House to mark up the bipartisan bill after the midterm election, and it will mirror a Senate version that advanced out of committee last month.

“There’s no good reason it couldn’t get done this Congress,” he said.


A similar policy that Australia created last year has already stabilized its local news industry and spurred a hiring surge that’s restoring newsrooms.

A variation proposed in Canada would provide a similar lifeline, according to a new fiscal analysis by its parliamentary budget office. It estimated news outlets would receive $329.2 million (Canadian) yearly, covering 30% of newsgathering costs, if they’re able to collectively bargain content deals with platforms.

These governments all decided that saving local journalism is a public good, the digital marketplace is skewed by unfair competition and intervention is needed to give local news a chance. This mostly benefits smaller and regional outlets, since the biggest players already have or can afford to negotiate on their own.

Cicilline said there’s strong, bipartisan support for JCPA because people recognize the industry’s “economic free fall” and that “large, dominant platforms have basically taken a free ride on the work, the content, generated by local news organizations.”

This is also part of a broader shift needed to convince individuals and companies that professionally reported news, like recorded music, movies and books, must be paid for and not skimmed for free online.

Frosting on the cake is how JCPA would support not just existing outlets but new ventures like Cascadia.


Around 550 online news startups are operating across the U.S. but more than 90% are in big cities, few have sustainable business models and their growth is stagnant, Northwestern’s Local News Initiative found.

That’s not doing much to fill the void created by the implosion of the newspaper industry, which left thousands of rural and suburban areas with little to no local news coverage.

From that perspective, JCPA isn’t a windfall. It’s more like getting paid for an overdue subscription bill. That won’t solve all the industry’s problems, but it would help stabilize and rebuild this civic infrastructure.

The windfall would be if JCPA results in more local owners stepping forward to buy or build local news businesses, while helping promising startups like Cascadia find their way to sustainability.

“I can see situations where that sort of clearer picture financially would encourage a lot more startups like ours that didn’t have as much money up front,” Judd said.

The head of Canada’s news industry trade association, Paul Deegan, said its version of JCPA would support startups with at least two employees and help traditional titles survive as they retool for digital competition.


Canada also has another program providing tax credits for employing local journalists. Together they would help news outlets get “over the hump of the digital transition” and invest in both technology and journalists, he said.

“That’s really going to make a meaningful difference,” he said.

As for Cascadia, JCPA “would be a tremendous boost to us,” Judd said.

“We wouldn’t run out and increase our staff by 30% but that money would allow us to have a financial base that allows us to continue operating the staff we have for a longer period of time.”

The stability would also enable Cascadia to do more investigations, special projects and in-depth reporting. That additional content would in turn help build its audience and subscriptions, which it must do regardless of JCPA.

“The community’s going to have to step up to make it last and make it permanent and an institution,” Judd said.

Indeed, the 6,000 or so remaining newspapers and other local news outlets ultimately need local support to survive.

They also need to get paid for their work and a fair chance to compete online, as JCPA would do if Congress gets it done this year.