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Guiding force: Former Valley Record owner, publisher Jim McKiernan looks back on years of change
The Snoqualmie Valley Record, 100 years old in 2013, took on new energy in 1996, when a local family, Jim and Karen McKiernan, purchased the paper from long-time publishers Bob Scott and the Buchman family.
Here, Jim McKiernan looks back on his 12 years at the helm of the paper, through some of the biggest changes this Valley ever saw.
How did you get into this business?
I had worked for Boeing for 11 years and although Boeing is a great company, it’s hard to measure your individual impact on the overall company. As a younger man I had noticed guys like Kyle Riley, owner of Kyle’s furniture, and Gordy Gaub and the impacts they had on Snoqualmie. I wanted to have that chance. Karen and I sold my Boeing stock and scraped as much of the money as we could. We then borrowed money from Bob Ittes, then owner of Issaquah Bank, because he was the only bank that understood a cash-flow business with very little assets. He went out on a limb for us. We sold the new car, the travel trailer and hunkered down.
How did the paper change with the Valley?
The initial designs of the Ridge blew our minds. A lot of the early planning had been done, but we were able to see the first houses, the first streets, all in a spot where we used to hunt, have bonfires and possibly a few beers. Karen and I always felt the key to holding Snoqualmie together was to get involved and to try and integrate new folks into the community through the newspaper. We didn’t always agree with the changes resulting from the tremendous growth. But in the bigger picture of the eastside, it was inevitable. Little things, like the mayoral race between Fuzzy Fletcher and Matt Larson, were turning points from a small town to a small city. It was important that these new residents understood the history of Snoqualmie so they could appreciate what shaped their new community. We ran historical stories, historical sections, more school news and more sports. We ran more stories on the Snoqualmie Tribe as their recognition was announced. Circulation grew quickly, doubling in five years. Our editors stepped up their coverage of the city council, planning commission, police department and fire department because everyone was dealing with a tremendous amount of change and it was imperative the newspaper helped guide smart growth and held elected officials to task. I may have even written a few pointed editorials, all in an effort to generate discussion.
The water moratorium was also a difficult scenario for what was then the step-child community of the Valley, North Bend. Nobody could build houses, businesses struggled to renovate due to the moratorium and honestly, it all seemed pretty stupid to me at times. Why hold North Bend hostage for their water rights when there were times we all wished there was less water (flooding). But the mayors, council members and some help from the county, worked through it and now look at the growth. Downtown is more exciting then ever and I can’t wait to see what the next 20 years will bring.
How was the Valley different, 15 years ago?
Good question. As a business owner you wanted to see growth. As a person who grew up in the Valley, there were times I missed the intimacy of what was then, an isolated community. The biggest thing we noticed was the make-up of the North Bend and Snoqualmie city councils. New residents were willing to jump in and with their desire to help came new ideas. Sometimes it would take a while for the old guard to realize that some of the ideas were pretty good, myself included in the skepticism at times (Roundabouts being one of those not-so-popular ideas, or the medians in North Bend). We seemed to become an advocate for property rights at times as elected officials flexed their muscles—sometimes a bit too much. The initial growth started to degrade the intimacy many neighborhoods had. When Karen and I grew up, kids identified themselves with Highland Drive, Williams addition, Tanner, Riverbend, Fall City. But now there were new neighborhoods. I think many in the community were afraid people wouldn’t get to know their neighbors but with time, those fears subsided. The way the new neighborhoods were designed was conducive to block parties, neighborhood barbecues and kids riding bikes.
But the biggest difference between 20 years ago and today is the lack of living-wage jobs in the Valley. There is no industry of significance other than tourism and I sometimes wonder if that’s enough to keep a community together. It will take a conscious effort by the county council and city officials to bring in new industries so that people can work in the community they call home. Bedroom communities can sometimes be apathetic to local issues. Keep up the pressure to urge people to get involved.
What were some of the pros and cons of new technologies? Do you miss any of the old methods?
Wow, did the newspaper business change while we were owners. I really miss the darkroom. I could go in there, close the door, it was dark, and develop film to my heart’s content. It was a place of seclusion because nobody could open the door if I was developing film. It was an art form, to dodge and burn negatives or prints to make them clear. But it was also time consumingm and digital cameras saved me about 15 hours per week. Paste-up of the newspaper was also an art form and we missed the smell of hot wax with the purchase of a layout computer. Paste up pages were easier to copy-edit as several members of the staff would read the pages. It’s likely there were less spelling errors in those days because we had Nancy Fish, a walking dictionary and the person who generated most of the copy. Newspapers take much less time to generate today then they did even 10 years ago.
We were also the first weekly newspaper in the state to have a Web presence. Of course those early versions weren’t very friendly and we weren’t sure what to put on the Internet but it was, and continues to be, a radical change in how news is delivered.
What was it like working with so many different reporters, editors and salespeople? Do you think there is a ‘newspaper type’ of employee?
I hope this doesn’t come out wrong but newspaper people tend to question everything. I wasn’t used to that at all. Working at Boeing, I’m the boss and you just do what I say. That mentality went right out the window with the first reporters and editor, Brian Kelly. If there ever was a ‘Newspaper type’, Brian was it. He loved the business, the scoop, breaking a story and he was an award-winning photographer. I credit him with my photo skills as he scrutinized every frame that I would shoot. He worked as many hours as it would take and spent many nights on our couch after a late night at the paper.
Then there was Marie Everett, the queen of sales and one of the most compassionate, friendly people in the Valley. She epitomized what a newspaper needed for a salesperson. If asked, she would even go work at a customer’s business if they were short handed.
Running this newspaper probably defined your life and family in many ways. What was the biggest impact this paper had on you and yours?
You hit the nail on the head. The newspaper defined and still defines, our family to this day. Our kids, James and Lynnae, both had columns and were forced into the limelight. In James’ case it was somewhat reluctantly but people would always ask him about his soapbox column. We remember kids asking Lynnae about a specific Beanie Baby she mentioned in her column. We felt like we could make a difference in the community that we both love so much. It taught us that honesty, integrity, compassion and the chance to echo someone’s story are the most important virtues in a small community. It also showed us that there was more to work then just a paycheck. (There were times I had to ask Karen if I was going to get paid that week) The week’s success was measured in how many people commented on a story in the grocery line or how many times you scooped the competition. It also gave our family a true appreciate for High School sports. Snoqualmie Valley will always be our home and it still feels good to come down from the Pass, head past North Bend and look back at that amazing mountain.
What are you, Karen and Lynnae up to today? Do you have any greetings for the Valley at large?
We have made some changes. Karen and I both work for Jensen Farms in Warden Washington and live in Moses Lake. Karen does accounting for the farm and I sell onions. (If anyone wants a truck load, let me know) I travel regularly for business but still get to drive a tractor on occasion. We still spend as much time at Blue Lake as we possibly can and feel fortunate that it is only 30 minutes from our house.
Lynnae graduated from Central Washington University and is taking classes for Nursing school at Big Bend Community College. Her goal is to be an RN and someday possibly a mid-wife.
Life changed dramatically in late 2011 after the death of James and it made us all appreciate life and memories quite a bit more. Fortunately, we have thousands of fond memories of the Valley and our incredible friends and family who live there.
Go Mount Si!