Posts Tagged ‘South Whidbey Record’

The Whidbey News-Times currently shares a building with Garage of Blessings, a free thrift store.

Whidbey Island’s newspapers are in the market for a new boss.

RJ Benner, who was the Group Publisher and Sales Director with the Whidbey News-Times and South Whidbey Record, didn’t make it to his one-year anniversary.

Instead, he’s now the Publisher and Advertising Director for the Aiken Standard in South Carolina, a position he started Sept. 12.

Benner replaced Keven R. Graves Sept. 13, 2021, after Sound Publishing, under the ownership of Canada’s Black Press, parted ways with the longtime Whidbey-based journalist.

Graves worked at the News-Times from 1986-1994, left to launch the rival Coupeville Examiner, then moved to Yelm in 1999 to run the Nisqually Valley News.

He returned to Whidbey in 2013, as Publisher and Executive Editor for Whidbey’s papers.

A former President of the Washington Newspapers Publishers Association, Graves led his staffs to an often-staggering number of awards, while also being one of my journalistic mentors.

His successor, who came from the sales and advertising side of the biz, worked in Arkansas and Oregon before briefly fronting Whidbey’s papers.

Benner’s run is among the shortest of any Publisher at the WNT, where familiar names such as Wallie Funk, Craig Dennis, or Marcia Smith appeared in the masthead for years.

Sound Publishing is notorious for scrubbing bylines off of online stories written by former employees.

Still, a search Wednesday night for RJ Benner on the News-Times web site still reveals five publisher columns and a shout-out to the food at the Braeburn.

Only one of the six articles is from 2022.

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It’s a shame. It really, truly is.

Back in the final days of 2020, my journalism mentor, Jim Waller, retired after his second, and final stint, as Sports Editor for the Whidbey News-Times.

Since he was actually pulling double duty and also crafting stories for their sister paper, The South Whidbey Record, his departure to North Carolina essentially ended sports coverage in Whidbey’s newspapers.

Now, his departure is not the shame.

And neither is the work of the current staff at those newspapers, with Jesse Stensland, Emily Gilbert, Karina Andrew, and Kira Erickson doing fine work.

The shame lies with the bean counters, whether they are at Sound Publishing or, ultimately, at Black Press in Canada.

We are 10 months past Waller’s retirement, and well into a very-active fall school sports season, and Whidbey’s newspapers have not hired a new Sports Editor, or a sports writer, or anything remotely close.

From Jan. 1, 2021 to today, I have published 713 largely Coupeville-centric stories, most of them sports-related, on this blog.

By contrast, the News-Times and Record, the “papers of record” for Whidbey, have largely pretended sports no longer exist.

In Coupeville. In Oak Harbor. In Langley. From Deception Pass Bridge to the Clinton ferry, poof, athletics be gone.

Now, for someone like myself, who worked for the Canadian-funded Whidbey papers back in the ’90s, seeing an ultra-thin eight-page paper (with $1.00 stamped on it) arrive in my landlord’s mailbox is shame enough.

To leaf through it and see nothing sports-related, other than a random photo or brief, rewritten press release, is a stake through the heart.

Go online and it’s no different.

And I get that the newspaper industry has radically changed since the ’90s. I understand, better than many, how much of a struggle it is now.

I also understand my own Don Quixote thing, tilting at windmills and publishing 8,720 small-town sports stories in a little over nine years, can’t and won’t be replicated by anyone who’s not willing to live fast and (really) stupid.

But for the Whidbey newspapers, publications which have endured for 100+ years, papers which have employed really good sports writers in the past, to give up, is beyond shameful.

Both the South Whidbey High School volleyball and girls soccer teams are enjoying outstanding seasons, and seem capable of making serious playoff runs.

Years from now, when the players on those teams look back, they aren’t going to have many published stories, in print or online, to marinate in.

How are Oak Harbor teams doing?

No clue, as I’m buried, writing 4-5 Coupeville-related stories per day, every day, and, unlike the past, the News-Times isn’t there to let me catch a quick update.

There have been times in recent months where people from the two schools I don’t cover have asked me if I would write stories for Oak Harbor and South Whidbey.

I feel their pain. I do.

But I can’t rescue the newspaper bean counters for not doing their job.

I’m too busy with Coupeville, the town which I have committed myself to, and the athletes, parents, coaches, and administrators here, who have supported this blog since 2012.

The current staff at the News-Times/Record is doing what it can to stay on top of Whidbey news. They seem to care a great deal.

But they need help.

The bean counters back at corporate, if they intend to keep these newspapers running, need to realize how important sports coverage is as a part of small-town journalism.

The cost of hiring another reporter, one to cover Oak Harbor and South Whidbey sports (and give me someone to shoot it out with in Coupeville), will not wreck your ledger.

What it will do is give additional advertisers in the North and South a reason to support your papers again.

What it will do is give teens a reason to ever look at your publications, and grandmas a reason to clip stories or print out your work from the internet.

What it will do is restore a proud tradition of Whidbey sports writing which has included the work of Wallie Funk, Jim Waller, Brian Zylstra, Jill Johnson, and a whole lot of others.

What it will do is get me, a guy you paid to write about sports from 1989-1994, off your back, at least for a bit.

Though, I have a long history of chafing Sound Publishing and Black Press, so emphasis on the word “bit…”

Whether you’re a bean counter or David Black, the mythical gazillionaire media mogul behind the curtain in Moose Jaw, as long as you’re running them, you damn well should respect the history of Whidbey’s newspapers.

Sports matter, greatly, when it comes to small-town journalism.

Stop shaming yourself, and act like you have a clue.

If nothing else, give me a competitor again. I dare you.

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Whidbey News-Times Sports Editor Jim Waller (right) shares a chat with CHS girls basketball coach David King. (Photo by JohnsPhotos.net)

The adults are back.

After three months-plus with no sports coverage, the Whidbey News-Times and South Whidbey Record have returned the dean of local sportswriting to his desk.

Longtime Sports Editor Jim Waller was one of several employees who accepted a furlough back in March as the COVID-19 pandemic threw the newspaper industry into turmoil.

His last stories, a profile of Coupeville three-sport star Scout Smith and a piece on South Whidbey soccer announcer Crispin Roberts, posted to the internet March 24.

After that, my former high school journalism teacher lived the home life of “honey to-do lists”, leaving Whidbey sports fans with only my hyperventilating to get by on.

That changed as of Monday.

Waller has been at the core of Whidbey Island sports since his birth, as a player, teacher, coach, and writer.

He was born into the life, one of the sons of revered local coach Mert Waller, who led all four Coupeville High School programs (football, basketball, baseball, and track), before moving into similar positions in Oak Harbor.

Jim Waller was a standout athlete who went on to teach and coach multiple sports at OHHS.

Of the two people writing about sports on Whidbey, he is the only one to be a member of a real Hall of Fame, honored in 2001 by the Washington State Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

Waller led the OHHS baseball program for 30 years, taking the Wildcats to the Class 3A state title game.

A graduate of the University of Washington, he is in his second go-round with Whidbey’s newspapers.

Waller first wrote for the News-Times as a youngster, then returned to the post after retiring from the Oak Harbor School District.

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