With Republicans and Democrats looking for ways to save local newspapers and support democracy, it’s shocking to hear that an Eastern Washington city is trying to boot them off public property.

The Spokane Valley City Council is mulling a proposal to ban newspaper distribution on city property, as reported by The Spokesman-Review.

This sounds like petty politics. But it’s distressing to hear how little some elected officials value local news outlets that are essential to a well-functioning democracy.

I hope Spokane Valley is an anomaly. It’s in the district of U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, the only member of Washington state’s congressional delegation who isn’t supporting a bill that would provide a temporary lifeline to local news outlets.

Co-sponsored by Yakima Valley Republican Rep. Dan Newhouse, the Local Journalism Sustainability Act would provide temporary tax credits to retain newsroom jobs while news outlets retool for digital competition. It’s languishing but still has a chance to advance through budget adjustments this year.

One newspaper that would be particularly hurt by the Spokane Valley policy is published by Ben Wick, a City Council member and former mayor.


The current mayor, Pam Haley, and the council majority have disagreed in recent months with Wick and his council allies. Now that majority is pushing to ban “third party publications” from city properties.

Proponents told The Spokesman that this tracks with state law prohibiting campaign materials on public property, as the papers sometimes run political advertisements.

“It’s going to eliminate politics from City Hall, and that’s a good thing,” Councilmember Laura Padden told The Spokesman.

That won’t happen until they eliminate politicians at City Hall.

In the interim, will they also ban computers and cellphones accessing Google, Facebook, other social media and traditional news outlets? They all display campaign ads during elections.

Cities probably have authority to prohibit newspaper distribution on their properties, Rowland Thompson, Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington executive director, told me. But he’s not aware of any other cities in Washington making such a move.

Cities should be working to provide more information to voters and their communities, not less. If they deliberately reduce access to local news and information, voters should demand to know why their representatives aren’t supporting an informed democracy.


There’s abundant research showing that civic engagement, including voting, running for office and knowing things like who is the mayor, falls when people don’t read local newspapers.

Spokane Valley could use a boost in this department. Seven out of 10 voters in the city of 104,500 didn’t bother to participate in last November’s election. Its 32.6% turnout was worse than the average in Spokane County and the state of Washington, which weren’t a lot better.

Haley didn’t return my call by deadline.

Wick and his wife, Danica Wick, publish The Current, a monthly print publication that’s mailed to 18,000 homes in Spokane Valley and distributed for free.

Banning the publication from public property wouldn’t put The Current out of business but it wouldn’t help it survive, either.

Danica Wick said it already lost nearly half of its distribution locations, at places like restaurants, during the pandemic.

Losing distribution at City Hall wouldn’t be a great financial hit, Danica Wick said. The few copies picked up there are apparently mostly read by city staffers.


A bigger concern is that the city policy would also remove papers from the senior center at the CenterPlace civic commons. The newspaper rack is relatively busy and needs to be replenished weekly.

The Wicks have owned the paper for nearly seven years, along with another serving Liberty Lake. They run with a crew of freelancers but have considered adding full-time staff and increasing print frequency to every other week.

“We definitely have been filling a void,” she said.

The Spokesman increased coverage in their territories a few years ago but still publishes just a few stories a week about the area, she said.

This also touches on the tricky situation when small-town newspaper owners are directly involved in their local governments. It’s best if they weren’t, but it still happens.

Danica Wick said her husband doesn’t write any opinion pieces, and they take care to separate his city and publishing businesses.

But the council doesn’t appear to be acting out of concern for journalism ethics as much as plain old politics.

“It is 100% politically motivated toward Ben,” Danica Wick said.

People who would like to submit comments on the City Council’s proposal to prohibit “third-party” publications on city property can email comments to CityCouncil@spokanevalley.org.

This is excerpted from the free, weekly Voices for a Free Press newsletterSign up to receive it at the Save the Free Press website here.