Editor Ken Vance reflects on the seven years since Clark County Today was launched as a community news website
Ken Vance, editor
Clark County Today
Seven years ago Wednesday – on Sept. 27, 2016 – ClarkCountyToday.com went live. I know I speak for each member of our small team when I say that our lives, as a result, have been blessed more than ever before.
This random collection of my thoughts will likely mean more to our team members and others in our community who are intimately involved in this endeavor than some of you, but you will have to indulge me. I’m going to speak a little bit for a little while. It’s our space, we can do with it as we wish.
A little history
Clark County Today was born out of a collective desire by myself and Founder/Owner David Madore to provide area residents with a completely independent news source. By independent, I mean a news source that isn’t beholden to anyone and one that provides the Clark County community with the opportunity to read content others are unwilling to publish.
• We don’t ask for paid subscriptions from our readers. Each piece of content that we have produced in the past seven years has been available to each of you at no cost. There is no paywall. There are no limitations as to how many times you can visit our site or read our stories each month.
• We are also not beholden to advertisers. We do accept paid advertising, but the revenue that is generated from that advertising is a very small percentage of our annual budget. We do not accept advertising from any political candidates or organizations. Over the years, we have had advertisers who have raised issues with some of the content we have published and in each case, we politely inform them that our editorial decisions are not up for debate or compromise. As a result, we have had advertising relationships end amicably and respectfully with no regret on our part.
Every word I write in this column about our owner/founder will be one too many in his mind, but I am going to briefly adhere to the “it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission” approach because Clark County Today would have never launched without David Madore, nor would it still be in existence. Those of you who appreciate our community news website and regularly read our content owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to David.
David and I had a desire to create this independent, community-minded news website. When we agreed to do so, we set out with a mission to adhere to a few core values. David wanted it to be citizen-driven. He wanted stories to represent the thoughts and opinions of residents of our community and not to be dominated by the thoughts and opinions of our elected officials and community leaders. He wanted a place where area residents could share those opinions in the form of letters to the editor and other opinion pieces without being censored or refused altogether. We have done that. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard from our contributors that they had submitted numerous letters to other news organizations and never had them published. With very few exceptions, almost everything I receive from community members gets published.
David also envisioned members of the community contributing to the cause. He and I realize there is no way we can put together a budget large enough to produce enough content to be a relevant news source. We are reliant on the contributions from other like-minded individuals to fulfill our mission. Thankfully, we have members of our community who capably join in our effort. Some are paid contributors, some are doing it out of an intense desire and commitment to serve.
In addition to that, Clark County Today has developed relationships with other like-minded individuals around the state and beyond. We are proud to offer content provided by the incredibly talented and dedicated journalists at the Washington Policy Center and The Center Square Washington.
Our wonderful team
The Clark County core team consists of myself and three other incredible professionals who are devoted to our mission. Two of those three team members have been with us from Day 1 and the third joined us in our first year.
Our Administrator Heidi Wetzler is one of those who joined this endeavor prior to our launch on Sept. 27, 2016. Wetzler is the daughter of long-time area journalistic icon Marvin Case and Anne Case, the owners of The Reflector Newspaper for 31 years before selling in 2010. I worked with Heidi and her parents at The Reflector and am so thankful she agreed to join us prior to our launch. Her institutional knowledge, character and integrity is invaluable to our endeavor. During the pandemic, her well-researched and passionate columns on COVID-19 received more pageviews than any other stories we have published.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that Clark County Today likely would never have been launched if Andi Schwartz had not agreed to join our team. Full disclosure, I began the effort to create our community news website with the help of consultants a couple of months before Andi agreed to become our webmaster and graphic designer. Andi, who worked with Heidi and me at The Reflector, took over the entire effort. We got rid of the consultants and she single-handedly created our site and has managed it each day since. She provides expertise that none of the rest of our team possesses and her role is absolutely vital to us being able to fulfill our mission.
Paul Valencia joined our team as a reporter in the first year after our launch. Paul and I had worked together at The Columbian Newspaper and he had already established himself as a Clark County treasure (a word David Madore used to describe Paul when we hired him). Like myself, Paul cut his teeth as a journalist covering sports. And, just like myself, since joining Clark County Today he has become much, much more than a sportswriter. Paul has a unique ability and passion for immersing himself in the community and telling stories that deserve to be told. He has his boots on the ground more than any other member of our team.
Our team is small, but it is mighty and each member is devoted to this mission. Together with our partners and regular contributors, we are able to maximize the content we publish for our readers.
How success is measured
At the height of the pandemic, Clark County Today was topping two million page views a month. Our coverage of COVID-19 obviously put us on the radar of many readers outside of Clark County. Our team members were astonished by our analytics. We had stories that had over a million page views.
We never fell in love with our analytics. We didn’t create Clark County Today to get “clicks.’’ We didn’t create Clark County Today to get page views from readers all over the country, let alone the world, which was happening during the pandemic. And eventually, those page views turned into our worst enemy. It led to my biggest mistake in my tenure as editor of Clark County Today.
I began to feel guilty that I wasn’t making enough of an effort to monetize Clark County Today. I wasn’t seizing the opportunity to generate revenue that could be used to keep us in existence so we could fulfill our mission. I was continually receiving offers from folks who said they could use our considerable traffic to generate what I deemed to be substantial revenue.
Eventually, out of duty to fulfill the mission, we applied to have Google Analytics place ads on our website. My mistake is that we went from being a small-time, under-the-radar community news website in Clark County, Washington to one that was soon-to-be exposed to Big Tech, social media and others. Not only were we turned down by Google Analytics, but ever since, we have continually been censored and restricted by Google, Facebook, YouTube and others. To all of you who think I’m making this up or exaggerating, when those entities suspend or take action against your site they tell you exactly what they’ve done and why. They’re proud of it.
But, that censorship has never got in the way of our mission, which is to serve readers in Clark County and Southwest Washington. As much as they would like to, Big Tech and social media companies can’t prevent folks like you from finding our content. We will never let those who seek to silence us prevent us from fulfilling our mission.
Clark County Today has never told its readers what to do, how to think, or who to vote for. We don’t endorse political candidates. We just provide information, much of which isn’t published by other mainstream news organizations. We believe that is vital to the health and well-being of our community.
For example, during the pandemic we published content that didn’t match the national narrative that was being forced upon the public by elected officials, community leaders, Big Tech and social media companies. It was continually suggested that it was against the public interest of the community to provide any information or content that didn’t fit into that narrative. We didn’t tell readers whether or not to get vaccinated. We did publish stories that contained information about adverse reactions to the vaccines, as well as their effectiveness. We didn’t tell folks whether or not to wear a mask, but we did publish stories about whether they were actually effective in preventing the spread of the virus. We didn’t tell people whether or not to accept the use of Remdesivir or Ivermectin, but we did publish stories that attempted to assess their effectiveness and side effects. We provided folks with information and then got out of the way and let them make their own decisions.
Another example of the importance of our mission is our coverage of the region’s transportation congestion and the proposed replacement of the I-5 Bridge. The Interstate Bridge Replacement Program team has come up with a Locally Preferred Alternative (LPA). To this point, there are few true checks and balances for the project that now has a price tag as high as $7.5 billion of your tax dollars. There is no public vote scheduled to approve the project. There won’t even be a vote of elected officials. The Washington State Legislature has already approved our state’s contribution ($1.1 billion) to the project. The LPA includes an extension of TriMet’s light rail into downtown Vancouver, even though each time we’ve been asked, a majority of Clark County residents have said we don’t want it. There are many other issues with the project including the fact that it does virtually nothing to improve traffic congestion, meet the needs of the commercial trucking industry or satisfy the requirements of the U.S. Coast Guard for vessels that travel up and down the Columbia River. It also doesn’t address the need for a third or fourth crossing, which would alleviate some of the traffic congestion that negatively impacts our lives. This project screams for the need to be questioned and no other news organization has done a better job of doing just that than Clark County Today.
Onward and upward
So, here’s to seven years. Our team and others feel blessed to have had this opportunity to serve our community and it is our desire to do so for many more years. The only thing we ask of you is to continue to engage with our website by reading and sharing our content, commenting on our stories, and continuing to contribute story ideas and letters to the editor. Your participation in this endeavor is very much appreciated.
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