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Rob Curley: Channeling our past can lead us to the future

Time flies.

It doesn’t even seem real that we all have been hanging out together for a little more than a year.

Last year on Thanksgiving, our newspaper published my first column as the new editor of The Spokesman-Review. It was the first time we talked about some of the philosophical changes we were making at our community’s newspaper of record.

Since that time, you’ve undoubtedly seen my love of this area’s history. Dating back to my junior high social studies teacher – Mr. McNabb – it’s become clearer to me with each passing day that you can’t go forward unless you know where you’ve been.

That helps explain today’s edition of The Spokesman-Review.

Last year, we made the Turkey Day version of our front page reminiscent of how our newspaper looked around 1910. This year, we decided we should make all of the sections a bit nostalgic.

Planning for today’s newspaper began almost two months ago. Our editors and reporters worked on stories that were a great mix of modern and timeless.

Then our newspaper’s amazing resident artist, Molly Quinn, began drawing beautiful retro illustrations for those stories. The Spokesman’s design editor, Chris Soprych, pulled together the old-school look, while also finding lots of great art from our archives that we might want to republish – a hundred years or so after the first time they appeared on our pages.

As the pages started to come together, all of us grinned. We weren’t sure anyone would like this special version of our newspaper, let alone understand how much work had gone into it, but we knew it was special. At least to us.

One of our little secrets from the last year or so is that as we’ve worked to build a modern local newspaper that understands its role in a world filled with social media and a never-ending news cycle, we’ve often looked to our past.

Some of those things aren’t noticeable at first glance, but – we hope – show an appreciation for the past while not being afraid of the future. As we’ve changed things, we haven’t been afraid to bring some things back.

The biggest was reintroducing our newspaper’s dedicated local news section, the beloved Northwest section. With that came a huge increase in the number of local stories and photos we publish each day.

To be honest, we still can’t believe the feedback and love we get every Wednesday now that our expanded Food section includes reprints of this newspaper’s original Dorothy Dean recipes, some dating to 1935. We even get photos from people who cook one of her old recipes, telling us it tasted just like something their grandmothers used to make.

Some of the other things we’ve brought back in the past year aren’t quite as noticeable as resurrecting entire sections. But they’re just as important … only for different reasons.

When you look at our front page now, it’s almost always covered top to bottom with local stories. In a world filled with the same commodity news that you can see anywhere and everywhere, it’s the local stories that make us different.

That doesn’t mean we’ve given up on national and international news. Just the opposite.

Over the last year, several editors from newspapers across the country have visited our newsroom. One of the first things they tell us is they can’t believe how much space The Spokesman-Review dedicates to a substantial world report. It’s one of those things you don’t really notice until you pick up another newspaper from another town, then notice some have as little as a half-page of news from wire services.

But I’m talking about things much smaller than those.

The next time you look at our front page, look at the very top. Things that have been gone for decades are back.

For one, our hometown’s name has been added back to our flag. Yep, Spokane is back. So are the volume and edition numbers, which have been gone for so long no one could even remember when we got rid of them. Or why.

Our new columnist pictures have been hand-drawn by Molly, giving some of us a vintage look that we don’t quite pull off in real life. Our columns now include an S-R logo from the early 1900s.

This is because the past matters.

We just shouldn’t get lost in it.

Changing. Evolving. Moving forward. All of those things are much easier when you have a firm grasp of history. Especially when those around you know you’ve learned the lessons of the past.

That brings me to the cartoon that accompanies this column.

It originally ran in 1919 on Thanksgiving Day in this newspaper.

There are definitely some head-shaking moments in that cartoon. But the biggest for me is that even a hundred years ago, we were still thinking things were better in the past than they are today.

That’s malarkey, to use a great word from the past.

When I get asked to speak for community groups here in Eastern Washington, I try to explain how I view our hometown. It’s fun. And inspiring for me.

During those talks, I sometimes borrow a quote from one of the best newspaper publishers I ever worked for. He was this amazing mix of classic and forward-thinking.

He wanted us to envision what we could be, where we wanted to go, map the route and then drive forward. Not backward.

That’s what I feel like we are doing: Driving with our brights on. Both The Spokesman-Review and Spokane.

On this Thanksgiving, that’s what I am thankful for – getting to be a part of a community that thinks about the future while respecting the past.

Please have a great holiday. And it is totally OK to have an extra piece of pumpkin pie. That’s how it would have been done in the old days.


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