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Citizen journalism in Olympia – A continuing goal

Historical musings about The LINK

[Ed note: The quest for news meaningful to our local community started a long time ago. This article about one effort, “The LINK,” existed from 1970-1973. Writing in Works in Progress in 2010, Emily Ray reflected on the politics of that time: very different from today. Note the amount of Group Health’s monthly charge. She also covers the multiple sources of information that existed 10+ years ago — all but WIP now gone.]

They say “What goes around comes around.” Forty years ago The Daily Olympian (as it was then named) did not serve our community well. The editor-in-chief turned a blind eye to local social and political issues. The newspaper was generally silent on problems and initiatives concerning race relations, gender, growth management, waste reduction, the environment. When the newspaper did glance at any of these issues, it was with a jaundiced eye. Legislative sessions right here in our capital city might have happened on another planet.

Emily Ray kept an archive of nearly all issues of the LINK that were published in the three years of its existence.

Electronic communication and the ubiquitous blogs of today were still in the distant future. Those of us with urgent causes felt cut off, marooned, unable to reach like-minded people.

One of the people who was angry about the newspaper was Margery Sayre.  With her partner Jocelyn Dohm, owner of the Sherwood Press, she gathered some political allies. The outcome of this meeting was The LINK newsletter, an early example of citizen journalism in Olympia.

Our first issue hit the post office in January 1970 and we published monthly until we disbanded three years later. Six to ten legal-sized pages each month jam-packed with local news, all for a modest subscription cost of $2 a year! At its peak circulation, The LINK served 900 households. A total of 70 people eventually helped produce it.

Our purpose, boldly stated in our inaugural issue, was “to give liberals and their friends in Thurston County a thorough, reliable, untimeconsuming and inexpensive way of telling each other what they are doing and thinking and what they wish others of like persuasion would help them do.”

We said we viewed liberals as persons who look at politics and economics and institutions from the standpoint of general social well-being and individual liberties.

A “Calendar of Events for the Action-Minded” was the core of The LINK. We advertised activities of organizations like the League of Women Voters, the ACLU and the Washington Democratic Council. We published appeals for volunteers to leaflet, march, serve on phone lines, campaign for candidates, boycott agricultural products, donate money.

Our pages show the earliest stirrings of the Thurston Urban League, the Nisqually Delta Association, the Society of Friends, the Olympia Food Co-op, the KAOS radio station at The Evergreen State College, and the Olympia chapters of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, the Sierra Club and the National Organization for Women. BLOSSOM (Basic Liberation of Smokers and Sympathizers of Marijuana) also sought support though our pages.

We advertised Group Health Cooperative›s formative efforts here and the promise of full health care for a family of four for $35 a month. Through The LINK, readers learned about environmentally safe detergents, where to recycle paper, bottles and cans, and where to get support for breastfeeding. During legislative session, they learned about bills of potential interest.

Today’s young activists might see these topics as ho-hum, insignificant, but in the early 1970s they represented brave thrusts in new directions.

Two subjects remained uppermost: the Vietnam War and Native American issues.

We publicized opportunities for draft counseling and peace activism, and followed Indian fishing and cultural survival efforts. We publicized opportunities for draft counseling and peace activism, and followed Indian fishing and cultural survival efforts.

Jocelyn Dohm usually took care of the philosophical underpinnings. She was a printer in the Benjamin Franklin tradition, handsetting her own type. She had a unique ability to be clever and succinct and to express complex ideas persuasively.

Many people provided information for The LINK. We gave reporters a tip sheet for interviews, including questions to ask and what to say about the purpose of the newsletter.

The LINK was more than a newsletter–it became a mini-community. Every month volunteers gathered at the home of Hortense Allison to fold, staple and stamp. Hortense was our spiritual grandmother. Then in her upper 80s, she had lived on a commune and belonged to the Garment Workers’ Union. She was still an active member of the American Communist Party, a connection she kept fairly private. Our folding parties were full of laughter and camaraderie and children were always welcome.

Our farewell issue stated: “With the passing of time and last month’s national election in which we feel we helped to give “Americans a chance to choose modesty and peace instead of greed and war (a chance they blew), we bring The LINK to an end.”

Today [2010], The Olympian is again a thin vestige of a newspaper. Its circulation peaked in 1998 and is now just 60 percent of that. It is handy for movie listings, obituaries and snippets of news. It goes to bed so early that important civic events get little or no coverage.

A variety of other sources of local information emerged over the years: Works in Progress, Green Pages, Olympia Power and Light, The Cooper Point Journal, The COUNTER Point Journal, The Sitting Duck (out of business), OlyBlog (“devoted to citizen journalism”), and Janine Gates’ Little Hollywood blog. Video interviews on Everyday Olympia and TCTV also helped keep us linked.

TC Pro-Net is a weekly electronic calendar, now beginning its seventh year with over 800 subscribers including 200 paid supporters ($20/year), according to publisher Sherri Goulet.

Emily Ray retired from a career in state environmental programs in 1997. The pandemic has curtailed many of her usual activities, but she still can be found gnashing her teeth over the news (print and otherwise).

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