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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Deep roots: The Fig Tree celebrates 35 years

This month the Fig Tree newspaper celebrated 35 years of “informing, inspiring and involving.”

From a black and white paper published by the Spokane Christian Coalition, to a full-color nonprofit independent publication, the Fig Tree covers the region’s religious news, sharing stories that often fall under the radar of mainstream news outlets.

Mary Stamp has been at the helm of the organization since its inception.

“Editor, publisher, writer, ad sales, design, marketing,” she smiled as she listed her responsibilities.

Her journalism journey has taken her from the University of Oregon, to Fresno, California, to tiny Tekoa, Washington, before she landed in Spokane, tasked with organizing a publication focused on reporting religious news.

It’s a mission that still inspires her.

“Religion becomes invisible if it’s not represented in the media,” Stamp said.

While she no longer uses a typewriter to pound out her stories, and the advent of digital photography has made her life easier, the type of stories covered by the Fig Tree remains unchanged.

“I cover stories about people who are making a difference because of their faith and values,” she said.

However, religious affiliation often has little to do with many of the stories she features.

“Most people are still motivated by faith, whether or not they are religiously affiliated,” Stamp said.

She also considers herself a foreign correspondent.

“I cover global stories,” she said.

Indeed, a recent issue of the Fig Tree featured a story about staff from Providence Health Care traveling to Guatemala to provide health care for the poor, and another article profiled members of Unity Spiritual Center in Spokane who attended the Parliament of World Religions in Toronto.

“A lot of people here in Central and Eastern Washington, and North Idaho are taking risks, involved in things with global impact,” Stamp said. “I cover their stories with a unique lens.”

From an initial circulation of 6,000 to its current circulation of 8,000, The Fig Tree is staffed primarily by volunteers and a small paid staff.

Published 10 times per year, the newspaper is free and available online as well as in print. Over the years, it’s grown from eight pages to 12.

“We have sponsors, not subscribers,” said Stamp.

Teams of volunteers distribute 4,700 copies to churches, nonprofits and community buildings throughout the area. Stamp estimates a total readership of about 26,000.

And there’s never a shortage of stories to tell.

“Stories drop in from everywhere,” she said. “I never run out of stories. The Fig Tree is about relationships.”

Freelancers and interns from area colleges often help shoulder the writing and editing duties.

Stamp’s son, Malcolm Haworth, works with her publishing the Resource Directory – a yearly comprehensive directory of churches and community resources.

The Resource Directory has also grown from 7,000 in 2007 to 16,000 copies in 2018.

Stamp relishes her role in providing credible, responsibly reported stories that offer hope, encouragement, and often a call to action for readers.

“I love doing this. It’s not boring,” she said. “I get to share stories about everyday heroes who often don’t get the name recognition.”

When asked what the future holds, Stamp is quick to point out that Sister Bernadine Casey, who launched the Fig Tree with her in 1984, worked until she was in her 90s.

“This is retirement,” said Stamp. “I’m doing what I love. This is what retirement looks like.”

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