It’s been a big week for you hasn’t it?
It has been a big week. I was so honored to be nominated for Professional Woman of the Year—and surprised. I love Whatcom Women in Business and their mission. I was surprised because I’ve only been a business owner for three years; a lot of my phenomenal co-nominees have been in business much longer. So it was an absolute honor—as they always say. It truly was.
Yeah. It was quite a slate.
Indeed. They always name fabulous finalists. I was knocked sideways by the phone call telling me I’d been nominated.
How did you get into business? WhatcomTalk is an interesting take on local media.
I began my career in my hometown of Des Moines, Iowa at Better Homes and Gardens magazine. I was just out of college, with an English degree. A year or so into my time at the magazine, I started working on a master’s degree in journalism, at night.
As an editorial assistant, writing wasn’t even close to being one of my job responsibilities; I was answering phones and mailing contracts to the writers. But a couple of editors gave me a shot and I proved myself. I wrote several feature articles there before landing a fellowship and attending graduate school full time.
Literally days after finishing grad school, my husband-to-be and I moved here for his job at Western Washington University, and I started on the copy desk at the Skagit Valley Herald in Mount Vernon. I then worked from home remotely as an editor for a dot com in Palo Alto. I got into the web world that way and bounced back and forth between traditional print journalism and new media.
When the dot com bubble burst and my Palo Alto gig with it, I started taking on freelance assignments. I edited dozens of ebooks for New York publishers and did some textbook ghostwriting.
I also landed a weekly restaurant review column at the Bellingham Herald. This was about 14 years ago — before my son was born. For a couple of years, my husband and I went out to eat all the time and I wrote about it for the Take Five. That was a lot of fun.
I worked as a content developer for Toolhouse Design for two years, and then left that position to start a family and freelance.
When Whatcom Magazine launched, right after my son was born, I got to return to my home features roots. I wrote about fantastic local houses, as well as restaurants and food.
In 2008, my husband’s career moved us to Olympia.
While I was there, a new community website launched, called ThurstonTalk. I responded to an ad for a writer, and then sat down with the owner, Dan Jones, who told me all about his plans to tell positive community stories online and give local businesses a new way to connect with customers.
Dan had a strong business plan and the tech aspects all worked out, but needed help on the writing side. I became their first writer and was with the company for two years before my family moved back to Bellingham for my husband’s job again. When I left, ThurstonTalk had grown to 25 writers. It’s now inarguably one of the largest media groups in Thurston County.
My youngest, my daughter, was starting kindergarten and I wanted to return to full-time work. I’d stayed in touch with Dan and the team — I loved working for ThurstonTalk — and knew they were launching other properties in Western Washington. WhatcomTalk just made sense. He offered me a business partnership, and we launched WhatcomTalk in January of 2014.
For the first year and a half, I did everything outside of the actual publishing, which happens down in Olympia. I wrote every article, took every photo, and loaded every social media post. I networked like crazy and met with potential advertisers. And I loved it. I’d never had ownership in something of this magnitude before. A ton of sweat equity happened in that period.
Now, three years in, WhatcomTalk has totally taken off. We’ve built a strong readership and cultivated a wonderful group of advertisers and partners, which continues to grow.
It’s so gratifying to share these positive stories, because otherwise most of them go untold.
I have a local team now. My community outreach and business development manager, Kevin Coleman, is fantastic. We have so much fun at meetings and out networking. Even though a lot of my group is still down in Olympia, all 14 of our writers live across Whatcom County and regularly pitch and create community stories they’re passionate about.
We get amazing feedback from people who find our site while looking for things to do or places to eat. But we also write about local businesses: who they are and why they’re passionate about what they do. We just like to share authentic, feel-good content that helps foster connections in our community.
What are you most excited about when you think about the future of WhatcomTalk?
Our continued growth. We’re in this for the long haul, and I believe there will always be a need for what we do. Opportunities for local journalism are shrinking more and more everyday, while we’re actually growing.
We’re adding video and thinking about podcasts. The sky’s the limit, really. As Kevin loves to say: We’re putting out a ripple of positivity. We publish articles to the site, and then we push them out through social media; they get shared over and over, and that ripple gets wider and wider. It just feels fantastic to come to work every day.
Is there any aspiration to move to print?
Nope; none whatsoever.
The whole industry seems to be moving in the web direction.
It’s true. And, for us, it just makes perfect sense. I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for traditional print journalism, because that’s where I began. But for our readers, it’s no longer realistic. Seventy percent read us on tablets or phones, so our design is very friendly in that way.
Online-only also keeps our overhead low, and we can be incredibly flexible in our publishing. Sometimes we’ll write a feature for a business, and then something changes six months later; we’re able to go back and edit things so that article remains relevant and evergreen.
But when it’s printed, it’s locked.
Where’s your favorite place to hangout downtown?
Outside of business meetings, I don’t get downtown as often as I would like, in the evening — having kids with busy sports schedules does that to you.
My husband and I rented an apartment on South Hill the first few years we lived here, then we moved into a condo in the heart of Fairhaven, so Fairhaven was central to us back in the pre-kid days. Our first house was in the Columbia neighborhood, and we could easily walk downtown. And of course, when I was writing my restaurant review column, I was out and about all the time. But now we live out in the Silver Beach area, and downtown excursions aren’t as frequent. One bonus about living farther out from town, near the lake, is that we’re not too far from The Fork.
We like to hit the Commercial Night Market as a family, and of course the Bellingham Farmers Market. Many of my favorite restaurants are long gone (I still miss you, Calumet, Nimbus, and boZak), but downtown Bellingham is chock full of amazing options.
Old World Deli is a favorite, as well as Cosmos Bistro and D’Anna’s. I’ll be a Boundary Bay fan forever and a regular at the Community Food Co-op until I can shop no more. Okay, I don’t dare keep listing places, because I’ll inadvertently leave off a bunch…Ciao Thyme, all things La Fiamma, Mount Bakery…does Homeskillet count as downtown, being on the outskirts just a smidge?
Oh! One more: The Black Drop has been a favorite coffee shop of mine ever since it opened, way back. When my son was a baby, now-owner Stephanie Oppelaar would hold him and dance around early in the mornings, in between customers.
This is making me nostalgic. I look forward to the day — very soon — when my kids are just a bit older and my husband and I can go out without searching for a sitter or juggling who needs to take which kid where.
I see articles from our writers all the time about a fabulous new place to eat or go have drinks. I love that through their work I get a pretty good idea of what I would like to do if I had more free time.
What does Bellingham need?
Bellingham offers so many fantastic things that it’s hard for me to answer without giving it a lot more thought. I’ve been here 20 years now, and there’s nowhere I’d rather be. I love our easy access to the arts, theatre, and music. I mean, have you looked at the Village Books events calendar? They have spectacular authors visiting all the time. My 12-year-old son has been able to see his favorite author, Kwame Alexander, speak in Bellingham twice this past year.
We feel so lucky to live and raise our family here. We’re never leaving.
When I interviewed Meg Weber from TAG she said there are no playgrounds downtown.
Oh! That’s true. In Olympia, there was a nice downtown playground. And while we were living there, a phenomenal children’s museum opened, which also has amazing outdoor play spaces. I can’t exaggerate how fabulous it is. It’s in the core of downtown, very walkable, and it’s the best facility of that type that I’ve ever experienced. I was lucky to write many articles about it for ThurstonTalk as it was being built and after it opened.
We have lots of wonderful outdoor places for kids near downtown — not even getting into all the trails and lakes and other areas surrounding Bellingham — but that would be a nice addition, a large play area for kids right downtown.
Because, look, downtown is growing and changing in exciting ways — and I hope that translates into many more people living downtown, more young families too.
What do people not understand about your job?
That I work from home, not in a central office, and most of my meetings take place in coffee shops all over town. Some weeks, I feel like I should throw some rent to The Woods and Caffe Adagio, because we have so many meetings in those spots.
And a lot of folks initially think we’re a radio or video program, because of the “Talk” in the name.
WhatcomTalk is simply creating positive stories for our community to read and share. There are other sources, very reliable sources, for the hard news. But if folks want to read about what’s going on just here in Whatcom County, WhatcomTalk is here for them. And I find that incredibly powerful, because it reminds us that there are always good things happening, not everything is doom-and-gloom.
With the journalism background do you ever feel an urge to have a scoop?
I’ve taken that hat off. Any of those instincts from my newspaper days are gone.
We don’t have breaking news on WhatcomTalk; that’s just not how we do things. Our writers pitch stories on a particular day of the month through an online form. Our publishing team looks through everything and puts together the editorial calendar for the coming weeks, just feature articles and business profiles. And we love to write pieces that are evergreen; you can read it on the day it’s published or six months later, and it’s still just as relevant.
Recently, a colleague of my husband’s was looking for birthday party locations for his child. He’s new to town and did a Google search. Well, he wound up on WhatcomTalk, reading an article I wrote long ago, which gave him tons of options. That piece is over a year old, but just as relevant as the day I wrote it.
And that’s thanks to our digital nature. We’ve updated that article since it came out — one business had closed — so all the details were still pertinent.
For me it has been a delight to never be in a race to break a story. There are other organizations that do that, and do it well. I’m now, finally, doing what I was always meant to do: mix my traditional journalism background with new media, focusing only on the positive, in a business I own. I couldn’t be happier.