Arrow-right Camera
Go to e-Edition Sign up for newsletters Customer service
Subscribe now

This column reflects the opinion of the writer. Learn about the differences between a news story and an opinion column.

Opinion >  Column

Buy a piece of Spokane history, making sure that our community’s living history continues to be written

The archivists at The Spokesman-Review have culled out duplicate bound copies of the newspaper, which will be sold. This is the Spokane Chronicle A1 page of the day after the Titanic sank in 1912.  (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)
The archivists at The Spokesman-Review have culled out duplicate bound copies of the newspaper, which will be sold. This is the Spokane Chronicle A1 page of the day after the Titanic sank in 1912. (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)

For more than 140 years, The Spokane Daily Chronicle and The Spokesman-Review took all of their newspapers each month and bound them into massive books. Every page of every newspaper from each month of each year.

Then we built the biggest library shelves you’ve ever seen.

For the first time in our history, likely most newspapers’ history, we’re asking our readers if they would like to own some of these amazing books. These are the coolest history books you’ve ever seen. And the biggest.

They’re massive. And totally unique.

More importantly, you’ll be helping in a small way to make sure that more of Spokane’s history continues to be written daily by the journalists in our newsroom.

Of course, there’s a backstory. Some of it’s good. Some of it is not so good. And some of it is completely unexpected. Either way, there are lots of little details to explain, so make sure your coffee cup is full and you’re in a comfortable chair.

About five years ago, our newsroom began working with local organizations and our readers to find creative ways to help keep our newsroom as robust as possible. The retail apocalypse first reared its head during the 2008 recession and only got worse with the explosion of e-commerce and then a global pandemic.

These things combined to badly damage local and national newspapers across the planet. The advertising that once paid for all of that journalism now looked very different, and so did the newspaper newsrooms that once covered those hometowns.

So, we did things in Spokane that hadn’t really been done before, namely turning to our community to make sure the things they felt needed to be covered more, or even covered for the first time by our newsroom, got the attention they deserved. One of the most unusual aspects of all of this was that the reporters and projects funded by local organizations and our community no longer carried a traditional newspaper copyright.

They were all released with a Creative Commons license. That’s just a fancy way of saying that the stories funded by our community were now essentially owned by those same community members.

As unique as it all is, it’s still how most communities already operated in so many other ways. Communities own their public schools, libraries, roads and parks. The list goes on and on … so why wouldn’t a community want to own its stories?

It’s been so inspiring to see. And grow.

There’s a natural extension to this idea that hit us a couple of years ago.

The first part of that realization came back in the summer of 2020. The Spokesman-Review got shiny new presses. In Spokane Valley. That also meant the building across the street from us on the corner of Riverside and Monroe, the longtime home of our presses, was going to be transferred to one of our sister companies.

It also meant our newspaper had to get all of our stuff out of there. And it was loaded with stuff. Let’s be honest, some of it didn’t matter to us. But some of it mattered a lot, so we began looking for new places to store the stuff we couldn’t see go.

Part of that stuff ended up in a new “newseum” that we’re building in our newsroom. It’s fantastic and fun, and filled with the history of our town and the role our newspaper has played in our community.

In the very near future, we’re going to find a way for any and all of you who would like to see all of this cool, old stuff to be able to visit our newsroom to see it. But that’s not what this column is about.

The hardest thing we had to find a place to stash was those huge books filled with every newspaper we’ve ever printed. Ever. We’ve gotten pretty good at hiding things in this old building, but this was next-level. And so important to us.

Most newspapers have gotten rid of all of these amazing books filled with every edition they’ve published. Some of those newspapers closed. Some were bought by hedge funds, and then moved to new offices located in a strip mall just outside of town.

In many cases, these old newspapers were literally unceremoniously taken to the dump.

Other newspapers got rid of the actual physical versions of their archives because they all had been digitized. There just was no practical reason to keep them. Heck, both The Spokesman-Review and Chronicle’s complete archives have been digitized.

But we just couldn’t get rid of them.

It wasn’t just newspapers doing this. So were libraries all across the country. Why use all of that space to store these oversized books of old newspapers when it was so much easier to make them available – and searchable – digitally? Again, most were taken straight to the dump.

When the downtown library was going through its huge renovation, a similar decision was made. Only, in a very Spokane way, our library handled it differently. They called us.

So, we began looking for even more space to stash old newspapers. This is where our plan started to come together.

Our newspaper still employs an archivist. If you think it’s rare to employ a newspaper reporter, then you don’t even want to know how rare it is to have a job as a newspaper’s archivist.

We’re talking unicorn status.

She painstakingly went through all of our old books, every month of every year, to see which we were missing, and then used the books from our local library to make sure we had a complete set again. Some of these books had been missing from our archives for more than a century.

Spokesman-Review archivists have culled out large bound copies of the newspapers from ages past.  (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)
Spokesman-Review archivists have culled out large bound copies of the newspapers from ages past. (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)

Some were used to replace books that had been badly damaged over the years.

Now what were we going to do with all of the duplicates?

That took about five minutes for us to decide.

If we are working with our community so that it can “own” its history as we are currently writing it, why wouldn’t we ask them if they would like to own parts of our actual history?

That leads us to this Saturday – as in, tomorrow. And Sunday.

Custer’s Antique and Collectors Sales Show is out at the fairgrounds this weekend. There are few events in Spokane named so appropriately. If you’re looking for “unique” and collectable pieces of history, this is your kind of event.

We’ll be there, too. And we’re bringing our books.

Well, not all of them. Actually, just a fraction of them.

When you see just how big these books are, you’ll totally know why we’re only hauling about 100 or so of them out there. But we’re taking requests if there are certain months of certain years you’d like for us to take.

How much are we charging for these books?

Well, the important thing to know about the price is that every dollar we raise is going to go to the community journalism fund that helps pay for journalist positions that would otherwise not be a part of our newsroom. Or likely even in Spokane.

If a book is over 100 years old, we’re asking that you please donate at least $50 to our community journalism fund. If a book is from 1923-1980, we ask that you please donate at least $25.

But we really hope you’ll want to round up in what you give – as in, way up. Maybe even add an extra zero. If you’re feeling super generous, maybe even add a comma to the price!

If you add enough, make sure that you tell those working at our booth that you’d like a tour of our cool old building. They know a guy who will take you on a tour like that.

Most books are either one or two months of the newspaper from that year, and we will sell books that contain multiple months as a single bound volume. We will have many various dates on display out at the fairgrounds, and have a list of others that are still available, hidden away back here in our building downtown.

Most newspapers, including us, stopped having our archives bounded into books in the early 1980s. That was well before Al Gore invented the internet, so it was microfiche that was the culprit back then.

We aren’t selling any of our archives that we just now got reassembled. These are all duplicates.

The first of these duplicates were given to our high school interns. Some picked based upon important moments in our nation’s history. Some picked the month that their family first immigrated to our country and settled in Spokane. And some just picked the month and year their grandmother was born.

This is probably a good time to mention that those interns were paid because of a grant from Bank of America in our community. That’s how unique all of this really is.

If you don’t think you’re going to make it out to the fairgrounds, but definitely want one of these pieces of Spokane history, you just need to call us. Probably today. That doesn’t mean we’ll have an extra copy of the book you’re looking for, but why not at least try?

The information about how to do all of this is below.

If you do call about a special book you’d really like, or plan to visit us out at the fairgrounds, please remember that this is about more than just buying an amazing piece of Spokane history.

It’s about helping to make sure that our community’s living history continues to be written for another 140 years or so.

More from this author