GIG HARBOR — The rec room at an apartment building serves as its headquarters and funding’s tight, but a local news startup in this former fishing village is off to a strong start.

Gig Harbor Now began publishing online in September 2021. It now has 3,000 subscribers to its free newsletter and recently passed 130,000 page views per month.

“The optimism I have for it is even greater than it was six months ago,” said Pat Lantz, a former legislator who until recently led the startup’s governing board.

The site was launched by a group of former journalists and residents concerned that Gig Harbor was becoming a news desert.

Two local papers used to serve the area: the standout Peninsula Gateway that was acquired by The Tacoma News Tribune in 1995, and a weekly published by the Kitsap Sun in Bremerton.

Since then, coverage of Gig Harbor withered as the Tacoma and Bremerton dailies were gutted by national chains that own them.


The chains cut as Gig Harbor surged. It grew 69% from 2010 to 2020, according to the U.S. Census. It’s a wealthy suburb of Tacoma, almost like Bellevue is to Seattle.

It seems nonsensical but it’s all too common. Of the thousands of local newspapers that failed over the last 20 years, most were weeklies and community papers in suburban and rural areas.

Many were owned by families that couldn’t afford to keep them going or make the investments required to compete online.

Others, like the Gateway, were acquired by chains that consolidated them with nearby papers, reducing their local presence and whittling away at local newsrooms.

More than a fourth of the nation’s papers have been lost since 2005, and we’re on track to lose a third by 2025, according to “The State of Local News 2022” report by Northwestern University’s Medill School.

A steady stream of local news startups is launching but they number in the hundreds and more than 90% are in major metro areas, the report found. That still leaves thousands of communities and millions of Americans with little to no local news.


Online news startups, just like print newspapers, also struggle to find sustainable revenue with advertising dollars mostly flowing to tech giants. If they are nonprofits, they tend to rely on one or two major donors, and many are unsure of their long-term sustainability, according to the report.

The precariousness of smaller outlets was driven home by a report released last week by the National Trust for Local News. It found 53% of community media outlets serving ethnic communities expect to go out of business within five years, based on their recent financial performance.

I’m hopeful that Gig Harbor Now fares better, partly because it started with some advantages and partly because of its approach. Perhaps it can inspire others to find sustainable success.

Its approach includes a strong emphasis on building the business side.

Volunteer board members include retirees from major companies, including current president Candace Savage, who was formerly the West region sales director for newspaper giant Gannett.

The site had local talent available, including Kitsap Sun veteran Ed Friedrich, who served as a volunteer editor until it could afford to hire another Sun veteran, Vince Dice, as full-time editor.


Dice has a group of five freelance reporters, including three former Sun staffers.

After 17 years at The Sun, Dice was let go in 2019. The paper was acquired by Gannett in 2015. Gannett sold The Sun’s building in 2020 and steadily cut its newsroom. Dice remembers 40 on staff; the directory now lists six.

Friedrich’s son, Brady, is another key asset and co-founder. He’s a tech manager at Pinterest and previously worked at Meta and Amazon. Few local-news startups could afford such IT talent.

Lantz said it was key to have “people who knew what to do to get started.”

Starting in early 2021, the group raised nearly $100,000 from friends, family members and grants.

“It was such an easy ask,” Lantz said, because people were talking about the loss of local news.


Granters include Gig Harbor Rotary and the Greater Tacoma Community Foundation. It also received a $17,000 matching grant from the Institute for Nonprofit News.

Funding from donations and grants doubled in 2022. That included $21,000 from INN, one of 303 Newsmatch grants INN made to news outlets last year.

Gig Harbor Now’s second hire was Executive Director Jenny Wellman. Wellman has an accounting and nonprofit background and was Gig Harbor Now treasurer.

Wellman said the outlet started by building its organization, a strategic plan and systems.

“That’s probably why we feel more confident in where we are,” she said.

Now it’s gearing up to sell advertising, though Wellman expects more revenue will come from corporate sponsorships.


Also being discussed is whether to produce a print edition.

I hope they do, even though people get a lot of their news online nowadays. Papers add credibility and authority, differentiate outlets from the online morass, produce a historical record and establish a presence.

Plus, Gig Harbor has a high concentration of retirees with time to read newspapers and may prefer the format.

Online, Dice said the goal is to have at least two pieces of content every day.

One highlight was the site’s reporting on residents’ concerns about the security of an elementary school that lacks interior doors. The reporting drew the ire of the school district but prompted calls, letters and district action to add doors.

Gig Harbor Now has a long way to go before it restores what was lost after the Peninsula Gateway was sold and dailies cut back. It needs more staff, revenue and perhaps an office.

But it’s a promising start in a community that apparently recognizes the value of local news and is willing to pay for it.

“When you think about the gap of news we suffered,” Lantz said, “we are news desert survivors.”